BUCKSPORT, Maine — Voters in Bucksport, Orland and the SAD 18 towns of Prospect and Verona Island will vote Tuesday on a proposed consolidation plan for their school administrations.
The proposed regional school unit is different than many others that have been or will be voted on, according to Superintendent Jim Boothby. It is one of the smaller RSUs that has been approved by Education Commissioner Susan Gendron and it essentially formalizes an administrative relationship that has existed for some time. SAD 18 already tuitions all its students to Bucksport schools and Boothby already provides administrative services to both SAD 18 and Orland.
“I think everyone understands that there’s not any one plan that is a perfect plan,” Boothby said. “But we think this gives us the ability to meet the challenges we’ll be facing together, much better than we could separately.”
The proposed plan would establish an eight-member RSU board, which would replace the individual school committees in the member towns. Bucksport would have four members, Orland two, and Prospect and Verona Island one each, and their votes would be weighted based on town population.
While the new structure does reduce local control, Boothby said, it also gives the three other communities a voice in the operation of Bucksport High School, which they haven’t had before.
In addition, the plan calls for two advisory boards — one for curriculum and school calendars, the other for facilities and grounds — that will include members of the community.
Under the plan, ownership ofschool property would be transferred to the RSU, although communities will continue to have the use of the local buildings that they have had in the past. As part of the plan, towns retained some school property. Existing debt will remain with the respective towns. That includes the state approved debt and Bucksport debt on school construction projects at Miles Lane, middle and high schools.
Improvements on the Bucksport High School roof will be assumed by the RSU.
The members of the new district will share district costs based on a formula that relies on the state’s Essential Programs and Services funding model. EPS will set the base contribution for each of the member communities with costs above the EPS formula shared based on each town’s valuation and student enrollment. That system will be phased in over the next three years if voters approve the plan.
The plan does create some potential savings for the new district, Boothby said.
“We see efficiencies in special education, by operating a unified program, and in transportation,” he said. “We currently have three separate bus contracts that are restricted by town lines.”
The RSU, he said, will provide an opportunity to develop a single contract with more efficient routes. There also will be opportunities for shared purchasing that should result in savings, he said.
Boothby also anticipated savings in the central office where office staff now run three separate sets of books for the three entities. Those savings will kick in over time, he said.
The transitional costs involved in establishing the new RSU will not be as high as in some communities, Boothby said, and will be outweighed by the anticipated savings.
Boothby noted that the towns do face stiff penalties if they reject the plan. Penalties for Bucksport would total $169,317; for Orland, $64,658; and for SAD 18, $31,364, a total of $260,339 annually.
The plan does allow students in Orland to retain the choice of which high school they will attend. Voters last year voted to keep that choice as part of the new agreement. Under a previous agreement, which is included in the new cost sharing plan, Orland guarantees that 65 percent of its students will attend Bucksport High School. If less than 65 percent attend the high school, Orland will pay to the RSU the established high school tuition rate to make up the difference.