AOS 93 will hold a public forum in November and each of the district’s individual school committees will hold special meetings to address concerns about Lincoln Academy, the private high school where the district sends most of its students. The district will also conduct a survey to gather public feedback on the matter.
The decisions follow a special meeting of the AOS 93 Board on Monday, Sept. 18.
The board plans to hold the forum at Great Salt Bay Community School in Damariscotta in mid-November. A specific date and time has not been set. The surveys will be due Dec. 15. The district has not yet created the survey or determined when it will distribute it.
“We are expecting a sizable return. We need enough time to put the data together,” interim Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said.
Board member Stephanie Nelson, of Newcastle, proposed preparing a handout to explain the financial relationship between the district and Lincoln Academy.
“I think those numbers paint a pretty good picture,” Nelson said.
Board member David Kolodin, of Bristol, spoke on the importance of public feedback.
“I want to see some numbers. Who is unhappy? How many are happy? Are they upset with the whole school?” Kolodin said.
Throughout the meeting, the board worked to fine-tune the language in a document outlying the board’s ongoing processes in the run-up to the public forum.
The document will contain a statement of concern, ways the district will collect data about community feelings, the next steps to achieve a desired outcome, and the desired outcome itself.
“We want to build and maintain an improved and harmonious relationship with clear and mutual expectations,” Hodgkin said.
Jefferson Budget Committee member Lawrence Grimard asked the board what its main concern about Lincoln Academy is.
Board Chair Josh Hatch said the board’s main issue is the disconnect between the high school and the school district.
“All local school board members are elected and tasked with providing K-12 (education) and all that goes with that. At town meeting, we get to the secondary education budget and we say, ‘There is nothing we can do about it.’ I didn’t feel comfortable recycling ‘There is nothing we can do,” essentially there is,” Hatch said.
Hatch said he wants to work with, not against, the Lincoln Academy Board of Trustees.
“There is more to gain by working together. The last four years of our kids’ education is too important not to be involved with,” Hatch said.
Hatch said board members were prompted to discuss the matter after parents, teachers, and students reached out about the school environment at Lincoln Academy and financial questions raised by a former trustee.
“We are doing our due diligence, making sure Lincoln is doing what we need them to do,” Hatch said.
AOS 93 Board member Angela Russ, of Damariscotta, said the board is following up on concerns from the community.
“We represent the seven towns. People are coming to us because they have nowhere else to go,” Russ said.
Dick McLean, a 35-year Damariscotta resident and former chair of the Damariscotta Board of Selectmen, said the current discussion was already an old one when he moved to Damariscotta.
“I always had a feeling, as a resident and a selectman, to open my wallet and close by mouth,” McLean said.
In response to questions, Hodgkin said AOS 93 is contributing over 75 percent of the high school’s student body and $5.4 million to its budget in 2017-2018.
Hodgkin said each of the district’s school committees have had different responses to the issue at hand, but he feels there is a consensus to proceed and gather more information.
In an email response to a request for comment, LA Head of School David Sturdevant said he and representatives of the LA board planned to meet with Hodgkin and representatives of the AOS 93 Board the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 19.
Sturdevant said the two parties planned to discuss ways to work together as they move forward.
The nature of the meeting was discussed toward the conclusion of the AOS 93 Board meeting.
Hodgkin said that though the entire board was initially invited to the meeting, the district’s legal counsel advised against the entire board going because it could run afoul of Maine’s open-meeting law.
The board’s attorney recommended that the board accept the invitation on the basis that some representatives, not the entire board, would attend the meeting.
“We were invited, we accepted, we will go and hear what they have to say. It’s not a decision-making meeting. I don’t know what to expect,” Hodgkin said.
Hodgkin said he views the meeting as an opportunity to start a dialogue with the head of school and the head of the LA board.
“It’s a chance to begin a dialogue, to lay out, if we can, and share with them, to the extent we get the chance to, our desired outcome. Our goal is not to take over Lincoln Academy,” Hodgkin said.
Hatch said the issues will not be resolved by closed-door meetings.
“It’s hard to sit in a school and argue against the basic things we talked about, like accountability. We want to get back together on this, not stake out our positions and lob grenades at each other,” Hatch said.
Hatch encouraged members of the public to show up for Lincoln Academy’s town hall meeting at the Parker B. Poe Theater at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 20.
“Anyone interested in this should show up and ask questions,” Hatch said.
Dennis Anderson, of Newcastle, urged the board to proceed with caution when it comes to private meetings with LA officials.
Anderson also said the AOS 93 Board should not underestimate the value of public opinion as a point of leverage in the district’s relationship with Lincoln Academy.
“The greatest leverage in any small community is the court of public opinion,” Anderson said.
AOS 93 consists of Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Jefferson, Newcastle, Nobleboro, and South Bristol.