February 4, 2013

SAD 59 chief doubts speedy Athens withdrawal from district

'I think the negotiations will take longer than anticipated. I have serious doubts they will be able to withdraw this year,' says Superintendent Todd LeRoy

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

MADISON -- The committee in charge of finalizing a plan for the town of Athens to withdraw from the school district is confident a plan will be ready next week, but the superintendent doesn't think the plan will be done in time for the withdrawal to happen by the next school year.

Negotiations between School Administrative District 59 and Athens should be finalized by the next school board meeting on Monday, Dan Viles, chairman of the Athens Withdrawal Committee, told community members at a meeting Monday night.

Superintendent Todd LeRoy, however, is less optimistic.

"Certainly we want to do everything we can to help them get through this process quickly, but I think the negotiations will take longer than anticipated. I have serious doubts they will be able to withdraw this year," said LeRoy.

LeRoy said the potential withdrawals have made it hard to create a budget for the next school year. Normally, he said, he has a draft done by this time of year.

"It's been confusing because until I know what's going on I can't really budget," he said. Viles said that as of a state report last spring, 170 students from Athens were enrolled in the district. Brighton Plantation usually averages between six and eight students per year, according to Christie Morgan, chair of the Brighton Plantation Withdrawal Committee.

Both Athens and nearby Brighton Plantation are planning to leave the school district after the towns voted on the issue last year and formed withdrawal committees according to the guidelines of the state Department of Education. In January both committees said they planned to withdraw before the start of the 2013-2014 school year and that they have submitted proposals to withdraw to the school board.

LeRoy said the district is working on counterproposals for both towns while they try to negotiate details of the withdrawal, including revenue and debt between the towns and where high school students from Athens will attend school.

Meanwhile, some Madison residents are concerned about the future of the school district, which comprised four towns in 2010. Since then, the town of Starks left to join the Farmington-based school district. If Athens and Brighton Plantation withdraw, Madison would be the only town in the district.

The withdrawals would bring the total district enrollment to less than 800 students. According to the town office, school district enrollment in 1988 was 1,266 students. In 2002 it was 1,021, and for the current school year it was 929 as of Oct. 1.

"Obviously the loss of students would be a big impact on the district but the numbers aren't so large that it would really require a change in our services," said LeRoy.

He said Madison Memorial High School would lose about 49 students, about one-sixth of its current population.

Town Manager Dana Berry said the town is trying to collaborate with other towns in the region to provide services such as a fire department. "I think there are other areas, such as our school district, that could use such opportunities. We could use more joint ventures, more shared projects," he said.

The next meeting of the school board is Monday, although the board will meet with the Athens Withdrawal Committee as necessary to complete negotiations on Wednesday and Thursday, said Viles. There will also be an open meeting of the committee at the Athens Town Office at 6 o'clock Tuesday.

When a withdrawal proposal is finalized, it must still be approved by a town vote. The date for the vote will be determined according to guidelines of the Department of Education, said Viles.

Rachel Ohm -- 612-2368
rohm@mainetoday.com

 

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