Voters to decide on opening Mattawamkeag school as regional center
MATTAWAMKEAG, Maine — RSU 67 voters will decide on Election Day whether to reopen Dr. Carl Troutt Elementary School as a learning center for troubled students in northern Penobscot County that would earn several hundred thousand dollars annually in tuition and state aid, officials said Thursday.
Under school Superintendent Denise Hamlin’s proposal, the regional school unit would initially house its Carleton Project participants — presently schooled at the Region III vocational school in Lincoln ― in four classrooms at Troutt in September 2013. It could also move adult education classes there and begin using Troutt’s athletic fields, thereby helping alleviate a sports field shortage and a scheduling “nightmare,” Hamlin said.
“What we would really like is to move the [Carleton Project] program there, expand the program, [and] offer regional services for children who are either dropouts or at risk for dropping out,” Hamlin said. “The goal would be to potentially create a regional adult education program or use that building for other services to support those students who really are in need of an alternative way, or an alternative path, to public education.”
The building also could eventually house a day care center, social service agencies and a health clinic that also could serve residents, said Chris Betts, RSU 67’s alternative education coordinator.
“To share a space with a mental health agency would be awesome because a lot of kids are struggling with those issues. A day care center would be perfect because several students have kids,” Betts said. “It could be like one-stop shopping for all of the students’ needs.”
Troutt was described as one of the oldest, least-populated and most expensive school buildings to maintain in RSU 67, which serves Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag, when the school was closed in spring 2009.
School leaders were wrong to close the building, Hamlin said, as it is still in good shape. Mattanawcook Academy Principal Henry Pietras said high school educators had been seeking an alternative-education program for dropouts or academically troubled students for 10 years. Troutt is a good location for that effort, Hamlin said.
School maintenance officials estimate that it would cost about $51,000 to bring the building up to code and reopen it, Hamlin said.
A private alternative-education program based in Houlton that serves Bangor, Houlton, Presque Isle and Winthrop, the Carleton Project also serves 17 dropouts or academically troubled students and adults from RSU 67, Betts said.
Another 15 students are on the program’s waiting list. The program could eventually house another 40 or 50 students from RSU 67, SAU 31 in Howland, SAD 30 of Lee and Springfield, and Stearns High School in Millinocket and Schenck High School in East Millinocket, Hamlin said.
Thanks to state and federal funding for at-risk students, the school system’s partnership with the Carleton Project has made money for RSU 67 since the partnership began last September. The program costs RSU 67 about $102,439 but it draws $176,640 in tuition and state and federal aid, netting the school district about $74,000 annually, Hamlin said.
Expanding the program’s RSU 67 student base and adding students from other school districts could net the program several hundred thousand dollars more. RSU 67 and Carleton officials are discussing setting an out-of-district tuition rate per student of as much as $700 per month, Hamlin said. No tuition rate has been set.
Mattanawcook Academy averages two or three dropouts a year, Pietras said.
The at-risk students are among the region’s most troubled. They often suffer from behavioral or social problems that make mainstream learning environments difficult. Many come from families beset by poverty and addiction. Some are young parents who need to balance work schedules with day care needs, Betts said.
A 12- to 24-month program for students depending on their educational needs, Carleton offers students “a different environment, a different feel to learning. It is a lot of self-motivated learning,” Betts said. “I don’t get in front of the class and preach and hope the students are listening to me.”
The program isn’t easy. It requires students to do at least 200 hours of work at outside jobs, plus at least 14 hours of community service. Students must also set a plan for their first year after graduation, Betts said.
Of the first 15 students, only three left the program, Betts said.
Mattawamkeag Second Selectman Edward J. Richard Jr. welcomed the school’s reopening. Town officials have been unable to get a new tenant in the building since it closed, costing the town about $30,000 annually. Residents have approved selling the school to the district for $1, he said.
“We are hoping that there is a use for the facility keeping with the educational uses the school was set up for,” Richard said. “Just like any small town, every little bit helps with the town’s economy.”
The RSU 67 board of directors will discuss the school purchase at a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 10 at Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln.