May 24, 2019

SAD 4 disagrees with state’s cost formula> Wellington, Abbot schools focus of directors’ appeal

GUILFORD — SAD 4 directors on Tuesday voted to appeal the process used by the state Board of Education to arrive at a cost formula for the operation of the Wellington and Abbot elementary schools.

After a half-hour executive session to hear legal advice on the planned closings of the two schools and the subsequent vote, Wellington Director Richard Garrett quietly picked up his materials from the table and left the meeting. Wellington’s other director was absent.

Contacted after the meeting, Garrett confirmed that he walked out in protest. “In good conscience I can’t stay in these meetings where they’re spending district money funding lawyers instead of education.”

The board’s action to appeal the state’s calculations used to determine additional costs that would be borne by the towns if the schools remained open was based on the contention that a different process was used for SAD 4 than previously used by the state, according to Superintendent Norman Higgins. The additional costs amounted to $13,000 for Wellington and $13,933 for Abbot. The board had a concern based on past action by the state that the formula was employed differently this time, he said.

Since directors voted earlier this summer to close the two schools as a cost-cutting measure, battle lines have formed between the district and the town of Wellington.

The former superintendent in the district under whose direction the closings were made, Raymond Poulin Jr., is now the deputy commissioner of education.

From the start, Wellington town officials contested the procedure used by the district in closing the school and the method used by the district to determine what share the town would pay above the local assessment, if Wellington residents voted to keep the school open.

The state Department of Education sided with Wellington officials, saying that the cost data submitted by the district were not in compliance with Maine law. Commissioner Wayne Mowatt said specifically the district’s cost for educating students could not be zero, as reported by the district, even if the pupils were sent to other schools.

Mowatt said the rules require this cost, on a per-pupil basis, be computed by dividing the districtwide elementary operating costs, excluding the costs of operating the Wellington school, by the number of elementary pupils in the district. This is the amount that is used in calculating how much the town is required to pay beyond the local assessment, if voters keep the school open, he said.

While the district had not planned to reopen the two schools this September, a delay in obtaining cost figures from the state caused the district to keep them in operation until Oct. 6, when referendums are scheduled in both communities.

As a result of their reopenings, directors voted to prorate the costs to be borne by Abbot and Wellington, if voters choose to keep the schools open from Oct. 6 to the end of the school year, at $11,483 and $10,708 respectively.

The referendums, when residents can vote either to close or keep their schools open, will be held on Oct. 3 in Wellington and Abbot. Public hearings on the closings will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, at the Abbot municipal building and at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, at the Wellington Fire Station.

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