ASHLAND – With SAD 1’s school reorganization alternative plan, to stand alone, being approved Jan. 8 by Department of Education Commissioner Susan A. Gendron, that leaves SAD 32 and Nashville Plantation pondering, “Where does that leave us?” Gendron had initially asked SAD 1 and SAD 32 to look into merging together since Gehrig Johnson serves as superintendent for both districts. Nashville Plantation later asked to partner with the two districts, as well.
“We formed a regional school unit (RSU) committee last spring and started exploring the possibility. We had several meetings, came up with a plan, and the school boards approved the submittal of the plan to the commissioner,” Johnson said. “The plan then went to a referendum vote Nov. 4 and was heavily defeated in every community. We then contacted the commissioner with the results of the vote, and then filed the same alternative plan for SAD 1 again which was just approved.”
Despite the threat of a $77,000 per year penalty looming for SAD 32, Johnson said the district’s position is that the penalty will be offset with administrative savings from sharing administrative services with SAD 1.
The money that they were able to save more than offsets the penalty, and they also retain their school board and local control of their own affairs.
“The SAD 32 school board doesn’t think it’s fair that they receive this penalty,” said Johnson, “but they’re braced for it. We’re hoping that the legislature will understand that things have changed since a year ago when the penalty language was put into place. We’re now facing a state funding freeze for next year, and an additional reduction this year. A penalty will negatively affect our students’ education.”
Johnson stressed the SAD 32 board feels the district is somewhat geographically isolated and the options to merge are few and far between.
“There really are no possibilities that make sense for us,” he said. “Other districts are an hour or more away or are already working with other partners. We’re hoping that the legislature will understand that additional financial penalties will only worsen an already difficult financial situation for SAD 32 and Nashville Plantation.
“Over the next few months,” Johnson said, “SAD 32 will work to lift this unfair penalty.”
Should the penalty structure remain in effect, Nashville Plantation would be assessed an $8,977 penalty.