BLUE HILL, Maine – The proposed plan for consolidating nine peninsula area schools under one central office will go to voters Tuesday.
The proposed plan will unite the school administrations in Union 93 (Blue Hill, Brooksville, Castine and Penobscot), Union 76 (Brooklin, Sedgwick and the Union 93 towns of Deer Isle and Stonington) and Surry under the Island-Peninsula AOS.
The regional planning committee opted to develop an Alternative Organizational Structure, after committee members largely opposed the regional school unit structure required in the original consolidation law. The AOS allows for greater local control and allows towns to retain their own school buildings and individual school committees.
If the plan is approved, it does create a joint AOS board to oversee the operations of a single central office that would provide administration for the newly created district. That board would include one representative from each of the nine towns with each member having a weighted voted based on their three-year average kindergarten through 12th grade enrollment.
According to information prepared for the recent round of public hearings in the towns, the AOS school committee would employ the superintendent and the central office staff, develop a budget for that office, oversee special education, transportation and curriculum, and negotiate and administer consistent collective bargaining agreements throughout the schools in the district.
The AOS committee also would determine and distribute state subsidy to each of the schools, adjust the cost-sharing formula, develop policies for the schools and develop a district school calendar. Cost sharing would be based on the three-year average of the kindergarten through 12th grade enrollment.
Based on estimated costs, Blue Hill and Surry would see significant increases in their central office costs, $79,841 and $57,675 respectively. Sedgwick would see an increase of $1,977, while the rest of the schools in the district would see a decrease in those costs.
The committee developed estimated costs and savings based on the proposed AOS plan. The estimated saving totals $605,491, which includes lower central office rent and utilities and one less superintendent’s salary and benefits, along with a total of $494,491 of avoided subsidy penalties.
Those savings would be offset by estimated cost increases of $883,500, including the major estimated increase in the cost of negotiating consistent labor contracts throughout the schools in the new district. Those costs were estimated at $798,500. According to Union 76 Superintendent Robert Webster, that is a conservative estimate because it assumes that the schools with the highest salaries and benefits will be willing to freeze current levels while the other units catch up.
The difference between the estimated costs and savings results in a total of $278,009 in estimated additional costs for the district.
Each school faces a penalty under the consolidation law that would reduce state subsidy if voters reject the consolidation plan. Based on the reduced subsidies for the 2008-09 school year, the estimated penalties for towns rejecting the plan would be: Blue Hill, $75,880; Brooklin, $39,270; Brooksville, $30,761; Castine, $20,526; Penobscot, $21,316; Sedgwick, $52,856; Surry, $94,671; and Deer Isle-Stonington CSD, $159,260.
The total student enrollment in the proposed district is 1,518, which meets the state required minimum of 1,200 students. A combination of towns with a total of at least 1,200 students must pass the referendum in order for the AOS to go into effect. A negative vote in either Blue Hill, with 340 students, or in the Deer Isle-Stonington CSD (which votes as one unit) with 404 students, would effectively veto the new district.