By Diana Bowley, Of the NEWS Staff - DEXTER - The fact that this community has small district schools that offer quality education is a plus for city dwellers looking to relocate. Yet that very quality of life others are seeking would be lost under Gov. John Baldacci's push for more regionalization, school and town officials said Wednesday.
Dexter receives about six inquiries a week from people in large cities throughout the country inquiring about the community and its schools, Town Manager Robert Simpson told SAD 46 directors and town officials Wednesday.
Despite the closing of Dexter Shoe Co.'s manufacturing facility a few years ago, the town has experienced growth, he said.
And the schools reflect that. Several years ago, the state requested that SAD 46 do an enrollment study, according to Melvin Johnson, SAD 46 board chairman. That study projected there would be a constant decline in enrollment over the years. "We don't seem to be anywhere near the rate of decline that they projected," he said.
People from lower New England are moving to upper New England for a better quality of life, according to Simpson. In addition, those moving to the community are paying premium prices for real estate. In one instance, a camp valued by the town at $22,000 was sold for $172,000, he said. The downside of the growth is that the influx of new money is driving out the old money and it is putting pressure on local property taxes, he said. Sales such as this increase the values of all other properties in the community, according to the town manager.
Property sales in the town caused the state to increase Dexter's valuation by 8 percent while at the same time the town lost valuation from personal property, namely machinery, from Fayscott and Dexter Shoe, David Pearson, Dexter's tax assessor, said Wednesday.
Recognizing the burden on property taxes, school officials invited comments and suggestions from town officials early in the budget process. This week's meeting was a chance to hear the problems both sides faced and an opportunity to express feelings about regionalization and the future of the local schools before the budget process begins.
SAD 46 has been on the state's protected list for funding of a new middle school, but the project has been held up for discussions on regionalization. The district has been and still continues to be a partner in those discussions with SADs 41, 68, 4 and Union 60, but the focus for SAD 46 now appears to be on consolidation in-house rather than with another district or districts.
"We feel we've been strong-armed," SAD 46 Director John Parola said Wednesday of the state's delay in funding the construction of a new middle school.
Rather than transport pupils to a school outside of the region, Parola said he supports closing the three elementary schools in Dexter, Exeter and Garland and offering a school for children in kindergarten through grade eight, and a high school.
"Schools tend to be so entwined in the personality of a community and we hate to lose this," Parola said.
SAD 46 Director Art Jette also said he was inclined to support a K-8 system with a new school centrally located in the district.
Malcolm Dow, a Dexter town councilor, reminded those in attendance that at one time both Dexter and Dover-Foxcroft had wood-built hospitals. Dexter's closed and the hospital in Dover-Foxcroft was replaced. "None of us liked this but sometimes I think we can benefit from it [regionalization]," he said. And, he added, "It's worked out pretty damn well."
Judy Biggar, Exeter's new town manager, said her community appreciates its small school. "It is the center of Exeter," she said.
Johnson and others pondered how school budgets would ever get passed if regionalization became a reality, especially if some of the smaller towns had no representation at the board level. They lose that local control, he said.
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