FORT KENT, Maine — The local school board has trimmed about $700,000 from the proposed School Administrative District 27 budget and is sending it back to voters who turned down a $12.8 million package last month.

The school board announced Wednesday morning that residents will be able to voice their opinions about the new $12.1 million proposal at a district budget hearing beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 23, at Fort Kent Community High School. The referendum vote in each of the SAD 27 members communities is set for July 30.

After last month’s overwhelming defeat of the proposed budget, district officials cut $700,000 by eliminating or leaving vacant 17 positions and crafting a plan to transfer students from grades three, four and five from schools in Wallagrass and Eagle Lake to Fort Kent starting next year. In addition, the St. Francis Elementary School would be closed completely. The pre-kindergarten and second-grade students in the Eagle Lake and Wallagrass elementary schools would remain where they are, for now.

Voters in St. Francis will decide on Aug. 14 at referendum whether they want to come up with an additional $301,000 to keep their school open, according to SAD 27 Superintendent Tim Doak.

Doak will meet with St. Francis residents at 6 p.m. Monday, July 27, at the town’s elementary school to discuss their options.

The SAD 27 board and administration worked with St. Francis residents last year in an attempt to keep the school open by giving the building to the town and leasing space for pre-kindergarten through second-grade classes.

Under emergency legislation signed into law last month, the town could have converted the unused portion of the building into a for-profit venture.

But now, because of the additional budget cuts that include moving all remaining students from St. Francis to Fort Kent, that deal is off the table, according to Doak.

On Wednesday, former SAD 27 Sandra Bernstein told board members that by removing students from the outlying elementary schools at the start of this coming school year, they were denying residents in those communities time to come up with their own solutions.

“I feel you are making decisions that will affect the long-term health of the district and students,” she said. “The abrupt decision to remove those students does not allow the communities to find ways to continue having their schools operate as they now do.”

Doak said transferring students and closing a school became viable options when the voters turned down the first budget proposal.

“Everything had to be on the table,” he said. “We had to show the voters we could make those cuts.”

Newly elected board member Alan Allison of Eagle Lake said declining enrollment has lead to school closures and consolidations around the state and that it was inevitable SAD 27 would face that choice.

Avatar photo

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.