School district consolidation plan worries some Albion residents

ALBION — Fairfield-based school district administrators are pushing ahead with plans to consolidate students into a new school, but some people in Albion oppose the effort because it would shut down the city’s school.

Kara Kugelmeyer, an Albion resident and former board member for Maine School Administrative District 49, said she believes the district hasn’t fully considered the impact the closures will have on Albion and Clinton, towns that would each lose their only school. In order to spread the information to the people of Albion, she created a website and sent letters to everyone in town.

“I feel like getting state money to build a new building for a neighborhood is a big win – I’m not denying that,” Kugelmeyer said. “But that can be true at the same time that closing a school in a city is a terrible loss, both of those things can be true.”

The process for the new building began several years ago when school districts across the state sent requests to the Maine Department of Education for money to pay for the construction of the school. In 2018, the state released a priority list of 74 schools, ranking Fairfield Primary School No. 1, Clinton Elementary School No. 39 and Albion Elementary School No. 58.

MSAD 49 hired CHA Architecture, a Portland-based company, to work on the neighborhood project. After surveying elementary schools, the company recommended a plan that would move all kindergarten through second grade classes to Benton Elementary School, and third through sixth grades to a new building — a recommendation that been accepted by the district building committee and the school board.

Consolidation is not required by the state to receive funding, the district Superintendent Roberta Hersom said, but it is encouraged for the sake of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. The district continued with site selection for the new building and identified a property next to Benton Elementary School as the ideal location.

The school board will hold a meeting on Wednesday at Lawrence High School to discuss the site selection process. It will include a presentation of the architects on the site of the new building and allow time for questions.

“We very much want the community to understand the selection process and rationale and hopefully build excitement for this opportunity for a publicly funded construction project that will not only mitigate the financial impact of many aging facilities, but will provide our students and our community with a state-of-the-art building designed to meet the needs of the neighborhood for many years to come,” Hersom said in an email.

Kugelmeyer argues that the loss of Albion’s elementary school would impose a financial burden on the town. Staying in the neighborhood means the city would continue to be responsible for a portion of the costs, including expenses that the new building creates that are not covered by the state.

She further argues that the lack of a school in town, coupled with longer bus journeys for students, makes the town less attractive to families considering moving to the area.

Kugelmeyer said one of the considerations is for the city to leave the school district and move to a school choice model.

“When you look at what’s going to happen to your community — the community that doesn’t get the new school in their town — that’s just not a win for us,” Kugelmeyer said. “So I’m not in favor of it, because I don’t think it’s a victory for our city. I think we would be much better served with the choice of school.

If the city left the district, it could instead contract with several districts in the area, allowing families to choose which school they wish to attend. Kugelmeyer said this option would be less expensive than staying in the district because Albion would only have to pay the districts per student.

Kugelmeyer pointed out that even if the city leaves the district, families can still choose to attend school in MSAD 49, they would just have more options.

Kugelmeyer said she was working to bring the issue to the Albion town meeting in March. The question for the inhabitants would be to open negotiations with the municipality to leave. The city would begin to negotiate and any final decision would be up to residents for another vote.

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