February 7, 2013

Athens and Brighton Plantation ready for exit from SAD 59

Withdraw would leave only Madison in district

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

MADISON -- Committees in Athens and Brighton Plantation are planning the next phase of their anticipated withdrawals from their school district.

Both groups concluded negotiations with School Administrative District 59 this week and have finalized withdrawal proposals that the school board is expected to approve Monday night.

If the towns go through with withdrawal plans as projected, Madison would be the only town left in the district. SAD 59 has a student enrollment of 929, according to the Madison Town Office. There are 170 students from Athens enrolled in the district, while Brighton Plantation averages six to eight students per year.

The town of Starks voted to withdraw in January 2012.

"This is a big step in the process. We've cut all legal ties with Madison," said Alan Linkletter, a member of the Athens Withdrawal Committee and a former school board member.

Superintendent Todd LeRoy said negotiations went smoothly and he felt both sides were able to part amicably.

"I feel like we have a fair and equitable agreement. Athens has taken responsibility for debt they have with the school district, and we were able to work out a pretty good overall package," he said.

Athens will be responsible for paying 11 percent of the school district's outstanding debt, given that it contributes 11 percent of the district's income.

"The important thing in this agreement is that Athens has agreed to pay their share. Madison taxpayers won't be paying any of their debt," said school board Chairman Troy Emery. He did not have an exact figure Thursday.

Athens Withdrawal Committee chairman Dan Viles said that once the school board approves the proposal, it will be sent to the Department of Education for approval. Athens must then hold a public meeting before they can vote to withdraw.

"Based on the town's vote of 129-12 to form the withdrawal committee, I feel very strongly that the town will pass this. What we have come up with is fair for both sides and based on the principles we recognized when we started," he said.

The withdrawal agreement also would give secondary students in Athens free choice to attend any area high school that is willing to accept them on a tuition basis, Viles said.

"One of our early goals was that we wanted to become a choice school district for secondary students. So if a student wants to go to Skowhegan, or Dexter or any other school, they can do so based on the program that school has," he said.

The agreement also would deed Athens Elementary School and its property to the town. The withdrawal would go into effect June 30; on that date, teacher contracts would transfer to the new Athens school district.

"I'm really pleased our teachers are going to stay with us. The value of that school is the professionals in it," Viles said.

Nearby Brighton Plantation also has finished negotiations with the school district, and a final draft of its withdrawal proposal will be signed at Monday night's school board meeting, said Christie Morgan, chairwoman of the Brighton Plantation Withdrawal Committee.

"Once we have a new school board put together, we will decide where students will attend high school and make other decisions about the future of education for our students. For now, we are waiting to hear from the commissioner and we will go from there," she said.

The Department of Education will decide whether to approve the withdrawal proposal, and if it passes there, the town will vote on it, Morgan said. The date of the vote has yet to be determined but there will be a public meeting about the proposal, she said.

Athens has been working toward withdrawal since voters at the town meeting in March decided to form a committee about leaving. An official withdrawal committee was formed in October, and Brighton Plantation formed a committee in November.

LeRoy said the process and its financial effects have made it hard to budget for next school year, although he said he has no hard feelings toward either community.

"We really couldn't have done this without the guidance of our superintendent. He has helped both sides and wasn't just working for Madison," Linkletter said.

He said that for Athens, withdrawal is just one step toward many more.

"The hard work begins now. We need to form our own school board, school budget, and run our own school," he said.

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

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