AUGUSTA – A battle is brewing over a state Department of Education appraisal of two high school construction projects that sets a Rockland-area proposal ahead of one from Sanford that outranked it a year ago.

Both communities are seeking to build new high schools on unified campuses that also include buildings for technical education, career training and college-level courses.

The department awarded the Rockland-area project, known as Many Flags/One Campus, 128 points out of a possible 200 points, which are awarded based on meeting several educational criteria.

The Sanford project, called the Great Works Career and Technical School, received 97 points. The Sanford School Department, which outscored the Many Flags proposal 141-136 in a separate rating last year, is preparing an appeal.

“How do you take a proposal that came in at 141 points in 2009 and reduce it to 97 points in 2010, and not change the scoring guide?” asked Sanford Superintendent Elizabeth St. Cyr.

The two projects fit the mold of a new model of a Maine high school, authorized by legislation that passed two years ago. The project with the highest score would likely be first in line when funds become available to build a pilot integrated, consolidated facility.

The Many Flags/One Campus project would merge Rockland District High School and Georges Valley High School in Thomaston. The merged high school’s campus would include college-level offerings from nearby university satellite centers; technical education classes; and a center offering boat building, design and engineering courses.

“The concept of the campus is to provide lots of different choices and options,” said Alan Hinsey, the Many Flags project coordinator.

In Sanford, the school department submitted an application proposing an expanded high school and vocational center on the same campus as an alternative education program, adult education courses and offerings from York County and Southern Maine community colleges and the University of Maine System.

“Our community business partners absolutely felt the current high school and vocational center were inadequate in terms of facilities to bring our students up to where they would need to be to attract businesses to southwestern York County,” St. Cyr said.

The scuffle between the two school projects is shaping up much like one that happened about 18 months ago.

That’s when those at work on the Many Flags project filed an appeal with the Department of Education arguing they deserved a higher score after being outscored by Sanford, said Jim Rier, the Department of Education’s school finance director.

A department review concluded that the first rating — performed by Department of Education staff members — didn’t adhere closely enough to the legislation passed in 2008, and set in motion revisions to the application process.

When school officials filed the Great Works and Many Flags applications again in the fall of 2009, a team of people from outside the Department of Education evaluated them. The team included economist Charles Colgan, John Dorrer of the state Department of Labor, Phil Dionne of the Maine Jobs Council and Department of Education consultant Ray Poulin.

“It’s hard to know what contributed to the differences these teams found,” Rier said.

Hinsey said the Many Flags application this time remained largely the same, save for the addition of vignettes showing examples of potential experiences from students and teachers.

St. Cyr said the second Sanford application added the adult education courses and detailed more integration between the high school and vocational center.

Whichever project the state Board of Education ultimately endorses, Rier said, it’s doubtful funding will be a reality in the near future.

“The times are very challenging going forward,” he said. “We can’t take away from the commitment that we would make to the other major capital projects” pending for schools across the state.

If Many Flags wins the Board of Education endorsement, Hinsey said those pushing for the Many Flags project would start seeking private and federal funding and begin lobbying state legislators for state funds.

“We’ve been at this for seven years now,” Hinsey said, “and it may be another seven years before it’s actually completed.”

St. Cyr said the Sanford School Department would pursue construction of the Great Works Career and Technical School regardless of the outcome of the forthcoming appeal.

 

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Matthew Stone can be reached at 623-3811, ext. 435 or at: [email protected]