ROCKLAND, Maine — Taxpayers in the six communities making up Maine SADs 5 and 50 can expect to save more than $2 million in the first three years of reorganization, officials said at a public hearing Thursday.
“We needed a reorganization plan,” said Jamie Doubleday, co-chairman of the Reorganization Planning Committee for SADs 5 and 50 in the Rockland-Thomaston area.
“There was a law imposed on us by the governor to consolidate school districts in Maine into larger administrative districts to save the costs,” Doubleday told a gathering of about 50 residents at a public hearing at Rockland City Hall.
She said there are about 290 school districts in the state. The proposal would reduce the number to 80 districts, thereby saving costs for the taxpayers and the state.
SAD 5 represents Owls Head, Rockland and South Thomaston, while SAD 50 represents Cushing, St. George and Thomaston. Under consolidation, the two districts will be reorganized into one regional school unit with approximately 2,300 students.
Doubleday of SAD 50 and her co-chairman David Matthews of SAD 5 spent 90 minutes Thursday summarizing the consolidation law to residents. The hearing was the first of a series of six sessions in each of the two districts’ communities to explain the reorganization plan before the Nov. 4 election, when residents will vote on the plan.
The new regional school entity will have one superintendent, a business manager, a curriculum coordinator, one special education director, one transportation department, one buildings and maintenance department and one district office, Doubleday explained.
Attending the meeting were Superintendents Judy Lucarelli of SAD 5 and Judy Harvey of SAD 50.
A new 13-member school board will be elected in a January 2009 special election to govern the regional school unit. Each community will elect representatives as follows: one representative each for Cushing, Owls Head and South Thomaston; two for St. George; three for Thomaston; and five for Rockland.
Doubleday pointed out that no schools would be closed. The plan consolidates only district-wide administrative staff and operations, she stressed.
A long-term plan has been created based on fairness and equity for all students in the six towns, she said. It will be phased in over six years, but savings will be immediate, she said.
Doubleday said the projected $2 million in savings over the first three years will come from reducing $531,000 in district administration and avoiding more than $1.5 million in state penalties.
Each district pays an annual penalty for not consolidating, she said.
The Maine Department of Education approved the reorganization plan for SADs 5 and 50 less than two weeks ago.
“If we don’t reorganize, there will be no future state aid for construction, and our towns will have to foot the entire bill for new or remodeled schools,” she said. At present, the state pays 95 percent of school construction costs, she added.
The state has told the districts that no funding will be available for the proposed Many Flags-One Campus combination high school, technical school and community college if the districts fail to comply, Doubleday said.
Matthews went over the cost-sharing formulas and changes and cost shifting for the six communities.
While SAD 5 receives higher state allocations per student than SAD 50, it spends more money on education above the state’s Essential Programs and Services than SAD 5 spends, he said.
A majority of voters from each of the districts still have to approve the plan before everything is final, he said. If the plan fails at the polls, the Reorganization Planning Committee would have to reconvene and try to adjust the plan to address concerns.
Should the vote fail a second time, the committee would have to start the process over, Matthews said.
No one at the hearing asked questions when the presentations were done.