SAD 70 hopes to woo Ludlow back

12 years ago
By Joseph Cyr
Staff Writer

    HODGDON — Faced with the possibility of losing one of its towns to a formal withdrawal, SAD 70 school board members decided Monday night that it wanted to hear reasons from residents of that town on why they wanted to leave.

    On March 29, Ludlow residents gave the go-ahead to start the withdrawal process from SAD 70 by a referendum vote of 67-36. A petition circulated in the community, according to Town Manager Diane Hines, initiated the withdrawal proposal. A public hearing on the matter was held March 19, but only one member of the SAD 70 board, Ludlow’s lone representative David Stevens, attended the meeting.

 

    At Monday night’s board meeting, which lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours and was heated at times, several board members stated they were not aware that a public hearing was being held March 19 until they read about the meeting in the Houlton Pioneer Times after the fact. The meeting was advertised in the newspaper on March 14.

    “At this point we are reactive because I don’t believe we were properly informed,” board member Margaret Scott said. “I don’t like the way it happened and I just hope we can do something proactive at this point.”

    The board asked Superintendent Bob McDaniel to request a meeting with Ludlow town officials and residents on April 25 at 6 p.m. On Tuesday morning, Hines said she thought organizing a meeting before the town heard back from the Education Commissioner was premature.

    About 30 residents attended the March 19 public hearing, along with SAD 29 Superintendent Mike Hammer. McDaniel did not attend the hearing due to a prior commitment. SAD 70 is comprised of Amity, Cary Plantation, Haynesville, Hodgdon, Linneus, Ludlow and New Limerick. SAD 29 is made up of Houlton, Littleton, Monticello and Hammond.

    By withdrawing from SAD 70, the town of Ludlow expects to save money on its tax bills. The town currently spends about $217,000 for its share of the SAD 70 budget. By making the switch to SAD 29, the town’s costs for education could be about $168,795, a savings of about $48,000 per year, according to Hines. That figure could change, though, depending on SAD 29’s budget.

    Ludlow could also opt to become a “stand alone” community and tuition its students to wherever they chose to attend school.

    The SAD 70 school board spent nearly an hour Monday evening discussing the withdrawal and its implications to the district. Several board members stated they heard New Limerick might also follow suit and start the withdrawal process.

    On Tuesday morning, Hines confirmed she had sent the town’s letter of intent to withdraw from SAD 70 to Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen on April 6. The Commissioner has 30 days to either accept or reject the request. If accepted, a committee will be formed to begin the withdrawal process. Another public hearing would be held in Ludlow to discuss the benefits of the withdrawal agreement. After that, another referendum vote for Ludlow would take place, this time requiring a two-thirds majority vote in order to go forward with the plan.

    SAD 29 would also have to have a favorable referendum vote from its supporting towns to accept Ludlow into its ranks. In order for Ludlow to withdraw before the 2012-13 school year, all of the referendum votes would have to be completed before July 1 — the start of the next fiscal year.

    At an April 2 SAD 29 board meeting, Hammer told his board he had given a verbal commitment to Ludlow officials to explore adding those students to his district.

    During Monday night’s SAD 70 meeting, Ludlow resident Melissa Burbee asked the board if it had a code of ethics for its members that precluded them from signing petitions. She stated Stevens’ name reportedly appeared on the petition.

    Board chairman Estela Lane said board members have a code of conduct book they are given when they are elected. However, nothing in the handbook states a board member must refrain from signing a petition. Board member Joel Oliver questioned if the board should be discussing the matter in executive session.

    Stevens said he was opposed to that request, but if the board did so chose to go into closed session, he requested that both he and his attorney be present for the discussion. He also repeated a request that it be done in open session.

    Stevens added there were a lot of “falsehoods” going around the community about his role in the withdrawal process. He stated while he did not circulate any petition his wife was asked if she would help circulate it, which she did.

    “I signed it and that is my right as a citizen,” Stevens said. “Otherwise, I had nothing to do with it.”

    Scott said she heard there was a group pushing for the withdrawal but wasn’t sure what the underlying reason was for the move.

    “It sounds like some families wanted their kids to go to Houlton, but were denied,” she said. “This is a serious situation. It sounds like we are going to lose Ludlow. We need to take it very seriously for our school.”

    According to Hines, there are roughly 80 school-aged children in Ludlow. Twelve of those students are home schooled, and about 20 others are attending Greater Houlton Christian Academy or are already in SAD 29 as part of a long-standing “superintendent’s agreement” that allowed parents to choose between the two districts.

    McDaniel said the loss of Ludlow students would have a “tremendous economic impact” on the school district.

    In other agenda items, the board:

    • Granted a one-day leave without pay to Sara Deveau.

    • Approved a class trip to the Boston Museum of Science for about 40 students. The students, and chaperones, will spend the night inside the museum along with students from other schools.

    • Approved a Jobs for Maine Grads trip to the Career Development Conference in Augusta for eight seniors and five juniors, with chaperones.

    • Gave the superintendent permission to advertise for an assistant principal position at Mill Pond Elementary School.

    The next regular meeting of SAD 70 is scheduled for Monday, May 14 at 7 p.m.