BINGHAM — Selectmen filled a new SAD 13 director’s position Tuesday night, capping a secession process that began just one year ago. That’s when The Forks Plantation took its first official step to withdraw from its regional school district.
Selectmen named local resident Joyce Baker to be the new SAD 13 director for Bingham. The withdrawal had created a Bingham seat on the SAD 13 board after the state calculated the number of residents each director represented in the new alignment, First Selectman Jeffrey “Jesse” Jacques pointed out.
School district directors represent their communities according to a state formula based on the one-person, one-vote concept. Bingham has about 1,200 residents, and the plantation has 31 people. The population shift of the two towns was enough relative to the voting concept to warrant adding a seat in Bingham, according to a Department of Education official.
Under the new arrangement, The Forks may tuition its students wherever it likes for the state-approved rate, Jacques said. Students may go to Forest Hills School in Jackman or to schools in Bingham, North Anson, Madison or Skowhegan.
SAD 13 covers Bingham, Caratunk, West Forks and Moscow, and it includes Pleasant Ridge Plantation under a special arrangement, school Superintendent Gary Moore said Wednesday.
Last year, the Maine Department of Education experienced secessions in three areas: Wiscasset withdrew from Union 48; Glenburn from Union 34 in Hermon; and The Forks from SAD 13.
The issue erupted a year ago when The Forks residents realized it would have cost them considerably more than the state tuition average of $5,000 per student to send two pupils to school in Bingham, based on the relative property valuations of the two communities.
“Under the statutes, they had to follow a series of rules,” Deputy Education Commissioner Ray Poulin said Thursday. The plantation started to get involved when it sent a letter to the education department in October 1997, announcing an intention to withdraw from SAD 13, Poulin said.
“Basically, they had to get a petition of 10 percent of the voters in the last election, raise money, and vote to set up a committee — which they did,” he said.
Education Commissioner J. “Duke” Albanese then reviewed the withdrawal plan to determine whether anything would be detrimental to students living in the plantation. The plan had to consider discharging any debt service and contract obligations and state how the town of The Forks would educate its children, Poulin said. After the commissioner gave permission for the secession last spring, the plantation had to make arrangements with the SAD 13 directors prior to the closing of the budget.
“We hadn’t had these as long as I could remember,” Poulin said of the school secession. “It’s uncommon. But, there has been more conversation about it since money got tight.”