MILLINOCKET – A proposal to send East Millinocket high school students to Millinocket next year under a tuition contract received no opposition from a group of more than 30 people who gathered Monday.
The meeting was the first of two planned by the Millinocket and East Millinocket school boards. A second meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, March 31, at Schenck High School in East Millinocket.
No one in the group said they opposed the tuition proposal, but many questions were raised about efforts to consolidate area schools, class sizes, the impact on staffing and whether a much smaller work force at Great Northern Paper’s Millinocket paper mill would affect school programs.
Gerald Morrison of Millinocket told school officials they should take a serious look at consolidating area schools. “Do the communities want to drown separately or swim in the same pool?” he asked. Morrison said children adapted to change quickly.
Jayne Bartley, chairwoman of the Millinocket school board, said it was too late to consolidate area schools for next year.
Bartley and Don Hendsbee, chairman of the East Millinocket board, said officials planned to work on a consolidation plan next school year in hopes of implementing a proposal the following school year.
Responding to questions about the impact on high school class sizes if an additional 125 East Millinocket students and about 100 Medway and Woodville students attended Stearns, Brent Colbry, Millinocket’s superintendent, said. Stearns easily could accommodate additional students, but eight to 10 more teachers would be needed. He said he expected four or five teachers would retire from Stearns this year. Colbry said class sizes at Stearns ranged from eight or nine students to as many as 22, 23 or 24 per class, which was similar to class sizes at Schenck.
One woman expressed concern about the future tax rate, saying only one paper machine would operate in the Millinocket mill. She asked whether Millinocket school officials planned to cut their budget. Colbry said the board had asked him to develop a budget based on students’ needs and said the board has yet to prepare a budget for next year.
Larry Mackenzie, an East Millinocket board member, said a drastic drop in employment at GNP could affect enrollments. Colbry said staffing would be adjusted based on the number of students. He said that few GNP workers had small children in the schools.
Responding to how Millinocket would be able to maintain high school programs and add new staff, Colbry said the new tuition contract would provide Millinocket with $700,000 to $800,000 in new revenues to fund programs and new positions.
Mike Jewers, a Millinocket board member, said the only thing that could affect high school programs was a huge drop in population.