April 08, 2020

Patten vote causes turmoil> Decision to keep schools open affects SAD 25 towns

SHERMAN STATION — The decision last month by Patten voters to keep their two local elementary schools open has resulted in dissension among residents in SAD 25.

That became evident during a school board meeting Wednesday night.

“I think this is a backdoor approach and I think it’s unfair,” Jacqueline Davenport of Sherman told a group of Patten residents during the meeting.

“If Patten doesn’t want to close its schools, fine, but pay for every penny of it,” she said. “Don’t stick us with the bill.”

With Patten’s latest decision, the town will be penalized $34,000 in its assessment by the district next year. That amount will be subtracted from assessments to the district’s other three towns, Sherman, Stacyville and Mount Chase.

The amount was determined by a state-developed formula. It reflects the extra cost to operate the two schools for one year.

For the 1999-2000 school year, however, all the district towns will again have to share the costs to operate the Patten schools.

One Patten school board member also has resigned. Eric Quint, who was appointed to the board in 1996 and elected in his own right last March, submitted his resignation Dec. 31, one day after townspeople voted to keep the Patten Primary and Patten Grammar schools open.

Citing “recent events in our district,” Quint wished school board members luck as they continued to “prepare our children for the future.”

Out of a desire to keep elementary-school-age children in town, disgruntled Patten voters successfully petitioned for a new election after townspeople voted on Nov. 4 to close the two schools.

On Dec. 30, local residents voted 267-144 to keep the schools open, thus reversing the outcome of the November election.

Residents of Mount Chase, whose children attend the schools in Patten, were not eligible to vote because there is no school in their town. That has upset some people there.

Both David Libby, the town’s school board representative, and Ben Drew, a resident, expressed concern that Mount Chase will get stuck with a bill for Patten with virtually no say in the matter.

“Tradition only goes so far,” said Drew of Patten’s desire to keep its older schools. “Sooner or later you’ve got to face up to reality.”

At last March’s annual town meeting, Mount Chase residents approved the appointment of a committee to look into deorganization of the town or withdrawal from the district because of ever-increasing school assessments to the town, the smallest in the district.

That committee is expected to make a report at this year’s meeting.

One woman from Patten said, however, that the latest vote was good for the town.

“People are talking again,” she said. “The community has finally come together.”

“We’re not in the education business to make Patten happy,” responded an angry Davenport. “We’re here to help these children compete in the outside world.”

Closure of the four aging elementary schools has been promoted by SAD 25 officials and boards for more than a decade as a way to deal with declining enrollment, increased costs and a loss of state aid to education. Under the proposal, all district pupils were to be consolidated at the junior and senior high schools in Stacyville.

The board is expected to proceed with the consolidation plans, but ordered that educational and financial impact studies be done by administrators before any schools are closed.

Superintendent of Schools Richard Marx said it will be his recommendation that Patten pupils in kindergarten through fourth grade remain in Patten, but that fifth-graders be moved to the consolidated elementary school.

By state statute, the school board has the legal authority to determine the organizational structure of schools within the district.

Marx said that since the district’s instrumental music program begins at the fifth-garde level, it would be costly to have the music teacher drive back and forth to Patten for one class, when all the rest of the pupils are in Stacyville

Residents of Sherman and Stacyville also voted to close the schools in their towns in November, and those votes will stand.

On Dec. 10, the board was presented with petitions from some residents of Sherman and Stacyville asking the board to reverse its decision to close schools in those towns.

The petitions were not submitted within seven days after the Nov. 4 election as required by state law and therefore were not valid. The board voted Wednesday to keep the petitions on file.

School officials reminded about 50 people who attended the meeting that the closure decisions in those towns were not made by the school board, but rather by a vote of residents.

“I don’t think you’ll ever get fairness out of this until the other two towns [Sherman and Stacyville] get a choice,” argued Leon Robinson, a selectman from Stacyville.

“The people spoke,” responded Ruth Lane, a board representative from Sherman. “Even if [the vote] was close, we can’t be any more legal than that.”

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