The Albion Elementary School is slated to be closed under a building consolidation plan being pursued by School Administrative Unit 49. That has prompted Albion residents to consider withdrawing the town from the school district, with an initial vote scheduled in June. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

ALBION — Residents will have a chance to decide if they support beginning negotiations for the community to leave the school district, a movement sparked by district plans to close the town’s elementary school under a building consolidation plan.

The Board of Selectmen voted Monday to set a Special Town Meeting election for residents to vote on starting the process to withdraw from Maine School Administrative District 49. The election will be held on Friday, June 10, from 3-7 p.m. at the Besse Building, and absentee ballots are available now. There will also be a public hearing for the topic on Monday, May 23, at 6 p.m.

“I know enough of us are serious about it in the town and want to go through the process with the hope that at the end we would have exciting and viable options for Albion education — that is the goal at the end,” said Kara Kugelmeyer, who has been organizing around the issue.

The ballot question will ask voters if they support creating a committee, filing a petition for withdrawal with the district and spending up to $45,000 on the process. However, this is not the final vote to actually leave the district; rather, it would allow the town to start negotiating with the district, get more information and take steps such as hiring lawyers or educational consultants.

At the end of the negotiations, there will have to be a final agreement between the town and district, and another town meeting for residents to vote on the matter.

Kugelmeyer, who is an Albion resident and former MSAD 49 board director, said that starting negotiations is the next step for the town to evaluate all of its options, not making a final decision to leave the district.

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More than 140 residents signed the documents that prompted the select board to act and set the referendum in motion, Kugelmeyer said. And the response, from residents and town officials, has been largely supportive of the town, at the very least, looking into the different options available.

“I’m thankful for town support and for the engagement,” Kugelmeyer said. “Community matters. This reminds me that community really matters and this is why we’re going through this.”

If the town were to leave the district — which also serves Benton, Clinton and Fairfield — it would likely transition to a school choice model, allowing families to choose a nearby district for kids to attend. And that would mean families could still choose to attend MSAD 49 schools.

There is also the possibility of the town continuing to operate Albion Elementary School, so students could go there for elementary education and then families would choose another district once students are older.

Kugelmeyer began to look into leaving the school district when the district began work on a new consolidated elementary school — located in Benton — which would mean closing Albion Elementary School, Clinton Elementary School and Fairfield Primary School.

She argues that losing Albion Elementary School would put a financial burden on the town, because staying in the district means the town would continue to be responsible for a portion of the cost, including whatever expense the new building creates that isn’t covered by the state. She further argues that not having a school in town, coupled with longer bus rides for students, makes the town less attractive to families considering moving to the area.

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So she began discussing the issue with other residents, created a website with information and started gathering signatures. After the Albion Town Meeting in March, many residents stayed behind to hear more about the option for withdrawal.

And while a new building for students would certainly be nice, Kugelmeyer said, it doesn’t guarantee a better education for Albion students.

When asked to comment on the latest step from Albion, MSAD 49 Superintendent Roberta Hersom said the district values all member towns and works to best serve all students.

Kara Kugelmeyer, standing, participates in the discussion of an article during the Albion Town Meeting on March 19 held at the town’s firehouse. Kugelmeyer is helping organize the effort for the town to withdraw from School Administrative Unit 49. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“While state-funded replacement of many aging buildings is not feasible, MSAD 49 is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to build a new school that will serve students and families for many years into the future,” Hersom said. “I am hopeful, once the community considers the advantages of membership for pre-K through 12 students, Albion will remain a part of MSAD 49.”

“We think it’s great that MSAD 49 is going to get a new building — really our going through this is because it’s not the right decision for our town,” Kugelmeyer said. “We are the farthest away and we are a town in which removal of our elementary school would be hugely transformational for our town and not in a fabulous way.”

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