May 30, 2020

State to review SAD 48’s plan to build schools

NEWPORT — A subcommittee of the State Board of Education cleared the way this week for SAD 48’s proposed two new middle school projects to be reviewed by the board on Wednesday, Feb. 9.

The state board has to approve the concept plans for the new structures before the process can move forward.

“Once we have concept approval, we can take it to the voters,” SAD 48 Superintendent William Braun said earlier this week.

Voting could be scheduled as soon as March 28. The superintendent is hopeful the two new buildings will be eagerly approved by local voters. He is aware, however, that projected costs have town officials and local taxpayers concerned.

The state allocated $10.9 million to allow the district to build the two buildings needed to replace the Hartland Junior High School and the now-closed Corinna Junior High School. Both of the junior high buildings were built before the Civil War. Corinna junior high school students attend classes in temporary quarters on the grounds at Corinna Elementary School.

Braun is concerned that estimated costs indicate the projects could cost the district an additional $2.5 million more than the state funding. At the same time, he points out that the estimated square-foot cost of the buildings is less than the average for school construction statewide. In addition, he said projects in the past few years at Corinna and Hartland for elementary school space came in well under budget.

There is a savings factor within the complexity of state school funding, Braun said. The state limits the amount of debt service a school district can fund. Once that limit is reached, the state funds the balance. The two new schools, with a projected extra cost of $2.5 million, would cost SAD 48 taxpayers $119,000 annually in debt service before reaching the so-called circuit breaker that would have the state pay the balance on the debt. That translates to half a mill at the district level, Braun said.

“That amount divided between six towns is not an overwhelming amount,” St. Albans Town Manager Larry Post said Friday. “I totally support two new middle schools. It only makes sense in a district of this size.

“If we don’t get the new schools, we’ll be spending far more on maintenance and upgrading on the buildings we have,” Post added.

Newport Town Manager Jim Ricker didn’t openly oppose the middle school projects, but said he is deeply concerned about the projected costs to local taxpayers.

Based on Ricker’s figures, the additional debt service will cost Newport taxpayers an additional $65,000 a year.

“We’re trying to hold the line on our mill rate at $16.50 to $16.75 [per $1,000 of property valuation],” Ricker said. He is worried the cost of the school projects and the annual anticipated school budget increases could add as much as a mill to the tax rate.

“The state should be funding what it takes to build those schools,” Post said. “They’ll give us $10.9 million for two schools and look at the money they’ve put into other schools in the state. There appears to be some inequities with that.

“We’ve been getting the short end of the stick for a long time, and it looks like they’re doing it to us again,” he added. “We need to urge the state to fund those buildings.”

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