As residents in Anson and Madison contemplate the future of their communities in the wake of economic loss stemming from the closure of Madison Paper Industries, school board officials in the two towns are beginning to put their heads together to address the concerns of taxpayers and students.

On Tuesday, school board members from Anson-based School Administrative District 74 and Madison’s School Administrative District 59 will gather for an informal meeting building off recent discussions of ways the districts can collaborate.

There’s no strict agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, but officials from both boards said collaboration, including the possibility of sharing a superintendent, could be discussed during a special joint school board meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday at Madison Junior High School. Officials in Madison will also discuss options for sharing course offerings with Carrabec High School at a regular meeting to follow.

“Both districts have declining enrollments and obviously the economy isn’t what it once was,” said SAD 74 board of directors Chairwoman Bobbi Sue Harrington. “I think we are smart to look at it not only for the taxpayers but for the educational opportunities for students as well.”

“With the mill not being there, budgets each year are going to become more and more difficult, which is something we’re also seeing all over the state,” said Madison School Board Chairman Bruce Thebarge. “So we’re trying to be more responsible. We’re advocates for the students, and we want to offer as much as we can in the best way we can.”

Madison Paper, the largest taxpayer in Madison and a major employer in the area, closed in May, and the company has since asked for a reduction in the amount of taxes it owes in both towns. An earlier reduction in value in 2014 already shifted an 11 percent tax increase onto Madison residents.

In addition, student enrollment in the area’s schools is declining, in part due to the withdrawal of several communities from the Madison school district to the point that it is now a single-community district. Five years ago, in the 2010-2011 school year, enrollment in SAD 59 was 985 students. It is now 667, according to the Maine Department of Education. SAD 74, which includes Anson, Embden, New Portland and Solon, is down to a student population of 664 from 745 in 2010-2011.

Collaboration between the two districts isn’t anything new. With central offices located just a few miles apart, the districts already share transportation costs for sending students to the Somerset Career and Technical Center in Skowhegan and Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Fairfield, according to SAD 74 Interim Superintendent Lyford Beverage.

They also have had a joint high school football team for about the last 10 years and currently share a boy’s soccer team, according to SAD 59 Athletic Director Chris LeBlanc.

LeBlanc said the districts are moving toward fielding a joint baseball team this spring and have decided on a preliminary mascot unifying the two schools — the Bridgeway Bandits, in honor of the bridge over the Kennebec River that links the two towns.

“As a former Madison baseball player myself, it’s kind of bittersweet because I certainly don’t want to see Madison baseball gone, nor do the individuals from Carrabec (want to see their team gone),” LeBlanc said. “You don’t want to lose that identity, but at the same time our objective is to field a team and field a competitive team.”

With declining enrollment, LeBlanc said neither school has been able to field junior varsity teams in recent years — something he said is critical to a successful varsity program — and while Madison could field its own baseball team this year, the numbers would likely be so low that if some players were injured or unable to make a game the team could have to forfeit.

“We met with the kids and the first meeting was unanimous. They were all very much into it,” LeBlanc said. “It’s important to be able to offer co-curricular activities that are competitive. Otherwise more and more kids are going to leave to go to bigger schools.”

Former SAD 59 Superintendent Todd LeRoy resigned last spring around the same time former SAD 74 Superintendent Ken Coville announced he would be leaving to take over as president and director of development at the Good Will-Hinckley organization in Fairfield, prompting both districts to hire interim superintendents while continuing discussions around administrative collaboration.

Thebarge wouldn’t comment when asked whether he sees the two districts combining in the future, but said in the past there have been futile attempts to consolidate with school districts in both Anson and Pittsfield.

There have also been other efforts to consolidate under a state-mandated consolidation plan that was proposed in 2007 but was met with opposition in many parts of the state and was unsuccessful in Somerset County.

Beverage, the SAD 74 superintendent, said consolidation is “one possibility” for the districts down the road, and “I wouldn’t rule it in; I wouldn’t rule it out.” He said he thinks collaboration can be healthy when it originates in the districts themselves.

“I think it provides an exciting opportunity to look at innovation in education,” he said. “We constantly try to find ways to excite and generate enthusiasm among the student body and the community, and I think it’s healthy for schools to look internally, do some self-analysis and converse with other districts.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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