Wednesday, March 12, 2014
ATHENS -- Residents will vote today on whether to withdraw from the school district based in Madison.
If the withdrawal goes through, Athens would be the second community in recent years to leave School Administrative District 59, after the town of Starks withdrew in January 2012. Nearby Brighton Plantation also is in the process of withdrawing from the district. If both towns withdraw, Madison would be the only community in the district.
Alan Linkletter, Athens selectman and member of the Athens Withdrawal Committee, said Thursday the leading reason for withdrawing is that the town wants more local control over its kindergarten-through-grade 8 school.
"Right now we are paying taxes to the school district, but we don't feel we have equal representation on the school board," Linkletter said.
In February, Athens concluded negotiations with the Madison-based district and the Department of Education approved a plan for withdrawal. Under that plan, Athens would be responsible for paying 11 percent of the school district's outstanding debt, because it contributes 11 percent of the district's income.
It also would allow 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 would become property of the town of Athens, effective June 30. Teacher contracts also would transfer to the new Athens school district.
The plan must win approval of two-thirds of the referendum vote to take effect, according to Department of Education guidelines for withdrawal.
Linkletter said that if it is approved, the next steps for the community would be to set up a school board and approve a budget for the coming year.
The withdrawal committee already has drafted a $2.1 million budget, which includes funds from local tax payers as well as state dollars, said Linkletter. In comparison, superintendent Todd LeRoy said Athens would need to contribute about $1.3 million in locally raised tax dollars and state funds if they were to remain in the district next year.
Athens has two seats on the nine-member School Administrative District 59 school board, which in 2010 enacted a new weighted voting system that representatives from smaller towns have called unfair. In a weighted voting system, board members carry a percentage of the vote based on the population of town they represent.
Before Starks left the district, six Madison school board members combined carried 75.3 percent of the total vote. Two Athens members combined carried 13.8 percent. Two Starks members combined carried 9.5 percent and one Brighton Plantation member carried 1.4 percent.
Voting is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Town Office.
"We really want everyone to vote. We want to know what people think, regardless of whether they want to leave the school district or not," Linkletter said.
This story has been corrected to include a $1.3 million budget figure for Athens to remain in SAD59.
Rachel Ohm -- 612-2368