Stonington, Deer Isle urged to kill school proposal

Posted Dec. 04, 2008, at 10:08 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:54 a.m.

DEER ISLE, Maine — The proposed school consolidation plan for a nine-town school district on the Blue Hill Peninsula got a failing grade from representatives from two of the towns in the proposed district.

The Deer Isle-Stonington Community School District School Committee on Tuesday voted unanimously to recommend voters reject the plan when they go to the polls next month. Voters in all nine towns in the proposed district are scheduled to vote on the plan on Jan. 27.

“The Deer Isle-Stonington board has been opposed to the forced consolidation since the governor announced his original proposal,” Union 76 Superintendent Robert Webster said Thursday. “This is just the next step in their consistent and long-standing opposition.”

State Education Commissioner Susan Gendron approved the reorganization plan for the new district last month after the regional planning committee made adjustments to the original submission. The planning committee opted to develop an Alternative Organizational Structure so the individual towns can retain their respective school committees.

The plan would create a new district combining the schools in Union 93 from Blue Hill, Brooksville, Castine, and Penobscot; Union 76 from Brooklin, Sedgwick, Deer Isle and Stonington; and the town of Surry, which chose to partner with the eight other towns rather than stay with the Union 92 towns that have joined with Ellsworth and Union 96.

Board members were concerned about the size of the new district, according to Walter Kumiega, co-chairman of the CSD school committee.

“We’re creating one big school union out of two small ones,” he said. “While it preserves local control — which was the biggest concern — it’s not a very efficient system.”

Kumiega, who served on the planning committee that developed the plan, said the main focus was on creating something that would comply with the law and would be approved by the Department of Education.

“The educational aspects of it were secondary — really secondary,” he said. “The educational details were left to be worked out.”

There are still a lot of questions about if it will work and how it will work, Kumiega said Thursday while pointing out that, if it passes, the new school district representatives will not have a lot of time to figure out the details. If the towns approve the consolidation plan, the new district will have six months to implement the plan.

Webster said he pointed out three potential problems with the plan when he discussed it with board members this week:

• The commissioner has the final say on whether a community can pull out of the district.

• The potential high cost of consolidating teacher and staff contracts into one, consistent contract for the new district.

• The education department is not required to provide individual subsidy reports for each school in the district.

According to Webster, the Department of Education will provide one subsidy report for each district.

“It’s up to the superintendent to figure out what each town gets for subsidy,” he said. “That requires a complicated, 15-step calculation to try to figure out the subsidy for each of the towns.”

The stated reason for consolidation was to save money on administrative costs. According to Webster, the new district would see some minor savings in the first year after consolidation, but would be faced with a major increase several years later due to the requirement to develop one teacher contract for all the teachers in the district.

Consolidation would result in a savings in the first year of about $85,000, the result of some administrative savings and increased revenues. That would be offset by increases in other areas of about $75,000, Webster said.

“There would be no savings in the second year, but in the third year, when all the contracts would be renegotiated, there would be gigantic increases, amounting to about $700,000,” he said.

The Deer Isle-Stonington board is the first in the proposed union to make a recommendation on the plan. Webster said the other school committees in Union 76 would discuss the issue in upcoming meetings. School committees in Union 93 also are scheduled to meet this month and to discuss the Alternative Organizational Structure plan. No votes are included in the agendas for those meetings.

The towns in the proposed district have scheduled public hearings before the Jan. 27 vote on the plan:

• Surry 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 7, at the elementary school.

• Stonington 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8, at the town hall.

• Brooksville 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8, at the town hall.

• Deer Isle 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 12, at the elementary school.

• Sedgwick 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 13, at the town house.

• Penobscot 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 13, at the elementary school.

• Brooklin 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14, at the elementary school.

• Blue Hill 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15 at the town hall.

• Castine 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, at Emerson Hall.

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