POLAND — After a summer-long dispute, Regional School Unit 16 and a local day care provider have come to an agreement over who will pay for a $13,000 school bus stop sign.
The answer: Everyone will share the cost.
The school board unanimously approved a plan Monday night that calls for RSU 16 to front the money. The Maine Department of Education will reimburse the school system for roughly 56% of the cost in two years as part of its state funding. The school system and day care provider Jan Jordan will split the remaining 44%.
The agreement means the state will pay about $7,280 toward the cost of the sign, with RSU 16 and Jordan paying about $2,860 each.
The arrangement ends a dispute that had angry residents taking arguments and accusations to social media.
“I am happy to have it over,” Superintendent Kenneth Healey said.
At issue is a 30-year-old bus stop at 937 Bakerstown Road, or Route 11, in Poland, in front of Jordan’s Little Hands Childcare. Jordan said she has complained for years that drivers careen around the bend and fail to see the school bus stopped in front of her home day care until it’s almost too late.
After a near miss there last November, RSU 16’s new administrators took her complaints seriously. They and the Maine Department of Transportation agreed the stop was too dangerous, and the school system shut it down in January. The move affected nine of the district’s elementary school students, all from Jordan’s day care. They were able to be picked up and dropped off by a special minibus that could pull into Jordan’s driveway, but they had to wait for a driver to become available, which meant getting to school late every day.
Jordan and school system officials agreed a sign was the better, more-permanent solution. The flashing, solar-powered “school bus stopped ahead” sign went out to bid. It was estimated to cost $13,000 installed.
Earlier this summer, school system officials informed Jordan that she would have to pay for it.
Jordan told the Sun Journal she had no idea the bill would fall to her. Healey disputed that, saying Jordan knew the sign’s cost would be her responsibility.
Healey has said he sympathized with Jordan, but he did not want to take $13,000 out of the school system budget and ask taxpayers to foot the bill to help a business.
Days after a Sun Journal story about the dispute, Jordan was flooded with offers of assistance. One of those calls came from a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, who said the congressman’s staff would work with the Maine Department of Education and other state departments to see what help they could give.
Healey said Golden’s office and Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon contacted the Maine Department of Education and discovered that state policy allowed the education department to at least partially reimburse school systems for such signs.
With more than half the cost paid for by the state, RSU 16 officials and Jordan agreed to split the rest.
Healey still has concerns about the safety of the bus stop, but he is glad the situation has been resolved.
“The only 100% way of guaranteeing that there won’t be an accident there is to shut it down. That’s not what I wanted. What I wanted is some sort of compromise like we have right now,” he said.
Jordan has mixed feelings about the agreement. She’ll now have to figure out a way to pay nearly $3,000, but she’ll get her bus stop back.
“I just need this to be over,” she said. “The stress has been huge, and school is starting. I need this settled so parents know where we’re at.”
Ultimately, she said of the agreement, “I think it’s fair.”
The sign was expected to be shipped Tuesday. Healey said officials hope to get the sign installed by the beginning of school in a couple of weeks.