FRENCHVILLE, Maine — A majority of voters in the three school districts that want to build a regional high school in St. John Valley agreed on a Frenchville site in a nonbinding straw poll.
A total of 1,708 residents participated in the straw poll meant to gauge community support, with 1,255 voting yes, 447 voting no and six blank ballots submitted or not returned.
Two of the school administrative units involved in the Valley Unified Regional Service Center voted overwhelmingly in favor, while the third was split. Fort Kent was the only town to vote against the proposed site, but votes in some of the other SAD 27 towns were close.
The poll results on the question: “Are you in favor of the Frenchville 3A/3B site as the location for the proposed Valley Unified Regional School?” were revealed Thursday night, Feb. 13, at St. John Valley Technology Center in Frenchville.
Joined under the umbrella of the Valley Unified Educational Service Center, the three school administrative units of MSADs 27 and 33 and the Madawaska School Department have worked together to address the declining enrollment and rising costs in education.
In 2018, the state authorized funding the Valley Unified effort up to $100 million for a new St. John Valley educational facility that would replace the high schools in Fort Kent, Frenchville and Madawaska, and serve students from Grand Isle to Allagash.
The Madawaska School Department, composed of voters from Madawaksa, voted in favor of the location for the proposed high school with 439 yes votes, 26 no votes and one blank submission.
MSAD 33, composed of voters from Frenchville and St. Agatha, voted in favor of the selected location with a total of 397 yes votes, two no votes and zero blanks with Frenchville taking credit for 267 yes votes and the two no votes, while St. Agatha produced 130 yes votes.
Fort Kent, New Canada, St. Francis, St. John Plantation and Wallagrass make up MSAD 27. Every community had a majority of yes votes except Fort Kent. Fort Kent voted 327 yes, 350 no and three blank. New Canada voted 25 yes to 20 no votes. St. Francis voted in favor 11 yes to 10 no votes. St. John Plantation voted 14 yes to 10 no, and Wallagrass voted 42 yes to 29 no with two blanks. The total votes tallied up for MSAD 27 were 419 yes votes, 419 no votes and five blanks.
The votes will be submitted to the Department of Education, with the results broken down by school administrative unit and town, so the DOE can decide whether the project will be allowed to move forward.
If the project moves forward, the next step will be the design phase. There will be two more opportunities for the public to vote — a second straw poll after the design phase of the project and the final full referendum that accepts or refuses the school.
The next Valley Unified Board of Directors meeting will be held Feb. 26 at the Fort Kent Community High School.