A motion last spring to have a June 2017 referendum for a new Middle School that taxpayers could vote on was recently revisited. On December 7th, RSU 14 board members convened to discuss new developments in that process. To this end, a new motion was made to cancel the referendum 5-2, in lieu of a newly opened up State Board of Education Major Capital School Construction Application Cycle. They agreed to contract with PDT Architects of Portland to prepare and submit the application to the Department of Education by April 14, 2017. This was unanimously approved.
“What happened in the fall, unbeknown to us, was the state opened up applications for new major capital improvements,” explained Windham Middle School principal Drew Patin. So, it is an application we had put in back in 2011. It was a stock application and at the time after the state reviewed them we were number 42 in the queue. Since then there is new structural information that was not available previously and will be added to the new application. Those items may help push things up. State funding that is based off an EPS (Essential Programs and Services) model which is about a 40 percent funding rate leaving the town tax payers with a 60 percent cost,” continued Patin.
The board paused because the possibility of a state funded project would be less of a tax burden on taxpayers. This left the board in a phase of “What do we do next? Do we continue with the referendum or, given this new information, do we have to have a discussion about whether we put in for both applications.”
On this Patin explained, “There are two things that could happen. The problem with the state application is if we were to do both, the application isn’t due until April 2017, so we wouldn’t know until March or April of 2018 whether or not we would be funded. If we continued with the referendum in June as originally planned and that was approved by taxpayers, then the state application would become null and void. Spring of 2018 we’ll make a decision to go to referendum if we are not funded. At that time a June referendum may be too quick so we are probably looking at November.”
Also, if state funding is not granted then two years will have been lost and the project will be re-routed to a referendum. “It’s a difficult decision. I don’t think there was a clear choice with that. Number one, we always need to be concerned what the impact is on taxpayers and people that support the schools. From that standpoint it makes sense to go through the application process if we have the opportunity to be fully funded by the state,” said Patin.
“The other thing that complicated the matter is that we received updated info recently from the state that if we were going to be approved, that given the current legislator and sort of climate we would be approved for 100 percent of the cost of the project. The likelihood of that is what I get concerned about. There’s a chance, but being number 42 on the list and knowing how many other schools there are in Maine that are in disarray, so there’s going to be a lot of applications for aide. I don’t know where we are going to end up,” he said.
“Once the application is submitted it is out of the district’s hands. Principals and other former educators go around as a team to each site, look at the site and then afterward apply the rankings. What I am fearful of is that we don’t make the list and we are pushed back another couple of years for things that need to be addressed now. Certainly I am disappointed, but I understand where people are. This is an expensive project and that it needs to be looked at and looked at carefully. It’s a risk,” Patin said.
“What we are looking at now is we want to make the application as a strong as it can be. That’s what our time is devoted to. We comb through everything and anything that may help us achieve a higher ranking (and make sure it) is included in the application. I look at it as my role and those of the teachers to deliver the best we can for our students, to better their education. All my eggs are in this basket to make sure this application is the best opportunity to bring change to the school in terms of facilities. In the meantime, there are still things that can and will be done such as the renovations at Field Allen, which is ongoing,” concluded Patin.