STARKS — The town voted overwhelmingly Jan. 10 to secede from its Madison-based school district, but it must now determine its place within its proposed future home in the Farmington district.

Joining Mt. Blue Regional School District requires changing the school board’s voting system to a weighted one and sharing costs differently throughout the district.

A group of residents, school board members and selectmen will meet at 5 p.m., tonight, at the Mt. Blue administrative office in Farmington to vote on a reorganization plan.

It ultimately requires voter approval in the Somerset County town of Starks and each of Mt. Blue’s communities: Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Temple, Weld and Wilton in Franklin County; and Vienna in Kennebec County.

“This reorganization plan actually acts as the fundamental document for the operation of Mt. Blue into the future,” said Ernie Hilton, chairman of the reorganization committee.

If Starks joins Mt. Blue, state law requires Mt. Blue to change to a weighted voting system. The board would grow from 15 members to 16, with the addition of one Starks member.

Currently Mt. Blue school board decisions are made by a majority vote. With a weighted system, each board member would carry a percentage of the vote based on the population he or she represents.

Under the proposed plan, one Starks member would have 3.5 percent of the overall vote; one Chesterville member, 7.4 percent; five Farmington members, 42 percent; one Industry member, 5 percent; one New Sharon member, 7.6 percent; one New Vineyard member, 4.1 percent; one Temple member, 2.9 percent; one Vienna member, 3.1 percent; one Weld member, 2.3 percent; and three Wilton members, 22.2 percent.

“That’s a fairly significant change in that the relative populations of their towns are going to count more than they have in the past,” Hilton said.

Weld school board member Paul Druan would have the least voting power if Starks joined. Though he said he’s not happy about that fact, he would still vote in favor of the merger.

“I can’t see any reason to vote no. It only benefits RSU 9,” he said.

One benefit to Mt. Blue is the addition of about $500,000 in funding from the state and Starks. Hilton said the Mt. Blue board is already incorporating the anticipated 50 Starks students and the funds into next year’s budget. Mt. Blue has about 2,300 students.

According to the plan, the main reason why Starks wants to join with Mt. Blue is because of “the far greater educational opportunities available in the schools.”

It says an exploratory committee found a broader curriculum in Mt. Blue, more advanced placement classes, higher advanced placement test scores, higher graduation rates and generally higher aspiration levels among graduates.

Starks would like to join Mt. Blue starting July 1. According to the plan, there are no issues involving the disposition of real or personal property. The addition of Starks would cause no change in collective bargaining agreements and would require no additional personnel.

Starks has no legal obligation to repay any of Mt. Blue’s debt. It will, though, help pay year-to-year lease-purchase agreements.

Buses already run into neighboring Industry and New Sharon and will easily sweep into Starks, according to the plan.

If the merger is approved, Starks selectmen will appoint an interim school board member to represent Starks on the Mt. Blue board until a permanent member can be elected.

If residents do not approve the merger, Starks will operate as a single municipal school unit until it is able to join or reorganize into another school district, according to the plan. Starks would be required to establish its own school board and administrative services and would try to place its students in surrounding districts, such as Mt. Blue, Skowhegan-based SAD 54, Anson-based SAD 74 and its former district, SAD 59.

If approved tonight, the plan will then require approval by Starks selectmen and the Mt. Blue school board before final approval by the Maine Department of Education. A signature by Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen will allow the communities to proceed to referendum voting, likely in late March.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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