ATHENS — Skylar Mongeon, a bright 14-year-old, bounced around the gymnasium of her school with her father by her side Monday evening.

The gym at Athens Elementary School was filled with parents and students like them visiting with area high schools that are inviting students from Athens and Brighton Plantation to join their schools.

The high school fair, which was held at the school Monday evening, was one of the first steps in establishing school choice for high school students in the two communities after they recently left Madison-based School Administrative District 59 in favor of establishing their own school districts.

“I love it. I looked at one school already and they have a great music program. It’s everything I’m looking for,” said Mongeon, who is finishing up eighth grade at the Athens school and trying to decide where she will enroll for high school next year.

School choice allows high school students from Athens and Brighton Plantation to enroll in any area school that will accept them on a tuitioned basis and was established by both communities during the withdrawal process.

Dan Viles, chair of the Athens Withdrawal Committee, said the seven schools that were present at Monday’s fair have all agreed to accept Athens and Brighton Plantation students next year. They include Carrabec High School, Dexter Regional High School, Foxcroft Academy, Maine Central Institute, Nokomis Regional High School, Skowhegan Area High School and Upper Kennebec Valley Memorial High School.

Madison Area Memorial High School, which also has agreed to continue enrolling Athens and Brighton Plantation students, was not present because most people in the community are already familiar with that school, Viles said. According to the withdrawal agreement between Athens and SAD 59, high school students may continue to attend the Madison high school at least through June 30, 2023.

“Madison is a known commodity and our current high school students are already there. We wanted this to be an opportunity to look around and see what other options are available,” he said.

For some, like the Mongeons, the prospect of high school choice is exciting.

Scott Mongeon, who attended Madison High School, said he is glad his daughter can choose a high school.

“Most kids don’t get that opportunity,” he said.

Others said the process seemed stressful.

“We’re not sure what we’re looking for. We always thought we’d stick with Madison,” said Denise Lake. Her son, Dalton Lake, will be a junior next year and currently attends Madison High School, where he was recently accepted into a vocational program made up of students from different area districts.

“There are only so many seats per school and if he switches schools he might not be eligible,” said Lake. “It’s challenging, especially when he is already halfway through high school.”

Deputy Commissioner of Education Jim Rier said that in school districts that don’t have their own high schools, the district is responsible for paying tuition to the district where the student chooses to attend school. According to the department website, that rate is based on the per-pupil cost of educating students, or the operating cost of the school divided by the number of students enrolled.

However, Rier also said that districts are not allowed to charge more than the state’s average per-pupil cost, which in 2012-13 was $8,873.46. If the cost of educating students is less than that amount, the district must charge the per-pupil cost.

Madison-based SAD 59, as well as two other districts represented at the fair, all charged the maximum tuition rate of $8,873.46 in 2012-13. The other two were North Anson-based SAD 74, where Carrabec High School is located, and Bingham-based SAD 13, where Upper Kennebec Valley Memorial High School is located.

Foxcroft Academy and Maine Central Institute, which are both independent schools, also will charge the Athens and Brighton Plantation districts $8,873.46 per student. However, Maine Central Institute operates as a private school for students outside of the district’s towns of Burnham, Detroit and Pittsfield, so families would be responsible for making up the difference between the tuition covered by the district and the private day student tuition rate the school charges of $10,000, according to Clint Williams, dean of admissions.

“We are willing to work with families to enable them to send their students here,” he said. “We are a Maine school and we want to be accessible to the communities close to us.”

The lowest tuition rate was in Regional School Unit 19, where Nokomis Regional High School in Newport is based and where the cost of educating a student in 2012-13 was $7,503.07.

In addition to the tuition rates, Athens and Brighton Plantation are responsible for all special education costs any of their students require, said Rier.

According to a proposed budget created by the Athens Withdrawal Committee, the Athens district is expecting to pay a total of about $506,300 in tuition to other districts during the upcoming school year. An additional $84,000 in special education costs would also go to other districts, according to the proposed budget.

“Most schools want to accept students [from other districts] because it’s good for them. They can collect the tuition rate and the costs are not that much,” said Rier.

Greg Henderson, assistant principal at Skowhegan Area High School, said that although money will follow Athens and Brighton Plantation students to the districts they choose to join, finances are not the only reason schools are welcoming the students.

“It’s really an opportunity to meet the needs of students in our area and give them a quality education close by,” he said.

Although all the schools that were present at the fair have agreed to accept students for the coming year, the Madison high school is the only school that has agreed to a long-term contract to accept students.

Viles said it is too early in the process of establishing a school district to give long-term commitments to any other schools just yet, although Rier said that in the future it would be a good idea.

There have been instances of students not getting accepted into high schools outside their district, he said.

“There is no requirement that says just because you apply they have to take you,” said Rier.

Elections for new school boards in both Athens and Brighton Plantation will take place Tuesday and the first school board meeting for Athens is scheduled for Thursday, said Viles.

Athens plans to enroll about 60 high school students for the upcoming school year, and Viles said he is encouraging families to decide as soon as possible where they want to go.

“There is no fixed deadline yet but we are encouraging people to decide as soon as possible out of fairness to these schools and to Madison, so we can let them know how many students might transfer,” he said.

Brighton Plantation enrolls about seven to eight students on average per year, according to Morgan. She said the town currently has no students enrolled in high school but they have two eighth-grade students that will be enrolling in high school for the upcoming school year.

The Athens school district will not provide transportation to other districts, but most of the schools at the fair have agreed to provide busing, said Viles.

For example, MCI will provide transportation if a group of families is attending their school, and Foxcroft Academy currently provides a bus that would pick students up in Harmony, according to representatives Monday evening.

Morgan said transportation for students in Brighton Plantation will be figured out once the new school board is established and it is determined where students want to enroll.

Elections for school board members in both communities will take place Tuesday. The town of Athens will hold a special election with polls open 4 to 8 p.m. at the town office. Brighton Plantation will hold a special town meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the town meeting hall.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
[email protected]

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