Thursday, April 17, 2014
ATHENS — The town of Athens now is its own school district.
Residents voted overwhelmingly Friday, 194–10, to withdraw from Madison-based School Administrative District 59.
"I'm so pleased the town was supportive of this process and that they have voted in favor of local control and school choice. We are supporting a school that has done such a great job for our kids," said Dan Viles, chairman of the Athens Withdrawal Committee.
Formerly a member of Madison-based school district, Athens has been working on withdrawing from the district for about a year and a half with the goal of maintaining local control over their pre-kindergarten-through-grade 8 school, Viles said.
As a stand-alone school district, the town plans to be a participating member in Alternative Organizational Structure 94, which includes two other districts, Dexter-based School Administrative District 46 and the Harmony Consolidated School Department, he said.
AOS 94 includes the towns of Dexter, Exeter, Garland, Harmony and Ripley. The districts share a superintendent and business office but maintain their own school boards. Viles said Athens will be a conditional member of the structure this year and will pursue full membership, which is subject to a vote of approval by the other communities.
Elections for school board members are scheduled for June 4, and a budget for the new district will be voted on by June 21, Viles said.
Athens is the second community to leave Madison-based SAD 59. Starks withdrew in January 2012. Brighton Plantation is also in the process of withdrawing, which would leave Madison as the only community in the district.
"I wish them luck," said Troy Emery, school board chairman in the Madison-based district. He said he was not sure how the withdrawal would affect the Madison district. Superintendent Todd LeRoy could not be reached for comment Friday evening.
Several residents at the polls Friday said they favored withdrawing from the district because they wanted more local control over Athens Elementary School.
Lorraine Barron, 56, a homemaker who has a daughter at Madison Area Memorial High School and has sent two other children to school in the district, said she voted in favor of withdrawal.
"I think we need local control of our school. We had no say on the school board because of the weighted vote," Barron said.
The school district enacted a weighted voting system in 2010 whereby board members carry a percentage of the vote based on the population of the town they represent. Under that system, Madison school board members carry about 75 percent of the vote on the nine-member board.
Tina White, 35, who owns Crafty Creations in Skowhegan, said she also voted to withdraw because she likes giving Athens students a choice of high schools to attend. Her ninth-grader son, who attends the Madison high school, will transfer to Dexter Regional High School next year because it will suit his needs better, she said.
Almost no one expressed support for remaining in the district.
Guy Anton, 54, a school bus driver for the district who is also a selectman, said he was undecided on how he would vote as he walked into the polls Friday afternoon.
"I've tried to stay neutral as a selectman and employee of the district. All I will say is that the kids should come first," he said. "As a selectman, I've tried to work with the community, be supportive of what they need and help with paperwork."
Athens residents have been discussing withdrawal since the district informally proposed moving seventh- and eighth- graders from Athens Elementary School to Madison Area Junior High School in January 2012, shortly after Starks became the first community to leave the district.
At the annual Town Meeting in March, a committee was designated to look into the relationship between the community and the district. They eventually formed the Athens Withdrawal Committee, recommending withdrawal with the goals of preserving the Athens school as a pre-kindergarten-through-grade 8 school and keeping local control over the school budget and how and what children learn, according to the group's website.
In February, Athens concluded negotiations with the Madison-based district and the Department of Education approved a plan for withdrawal. Under that plan, Athens will be responsible for paying 11 percent of the school district's outstanding debt, because it contributes 11 percent of the district's income.
The plan also allows for secondary students in Athens to choose any area high school that is willing to accept them on a tuition-paying basis.
Athens Elementary School and its property will become property of the town of Athens, effective June 30. Teacher contracts will also transfer to the new Athens school district.
"This has been a real community effort and I am floored by the commitment the community has shown. It's a great day for Athens," Viles said.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368