BREWER, Maine — A majority of voters from all 10 neighboring communities that have worked together for the last year and a half to create a new regional school unit gave the draft plan a failing grade at the polls Tuesday.
By a ratio of more than 6-to-1, voters defeated a referendum to create Regional School Unit 15 by combining Brewer and four neighboring school departments.
“I think the voters of the city of Brewer took a good look at this particular plan and voted that it was not in their best interest,” Superintendent Daniel Lee said after the ballots were tallied.
Officials from Brewer, Dedham, Orrington, the SAD 63 communities of Holden, Eddington and Clifton, and the CSD 8 towns of Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn, have been working together to create a school consolidation plan.
A big problem with the proposed RSU 15 was the projected increased costs, some voters said Tuesday as they left the polls in Orrington and Brewer. School leaders out in the Airline said residents in that area worried about the possibility of their small school closing after the consolidation.
“I heard the consolidation was going to cost the city of Brewer more,” Brewer resident Bill Gardner said. “I don’t see the reason for consolidating just for the sake of consolidation.”
Consolidating the central offices of the school units in the proposed district would save about $400,000 annually, but those savings would be more than offset by $2.74 million in projected increases for aligning salaries districtwide in the first three years of operation, according to the draft plan.
Orrington residents Reggie Glidden and Teresa Littlejohn each said they were concerned about losing local control and how the proposed consolidation would hurt their wallets.
“It [the results of the vote] will determine a lot for them,” Littlejohn said, pointing to her three children, age 3, 11 and 12, “and for us financially. And it’s important for us to keep control” local.
Glidden said he doesn’t mind consolidation, but he’s not willing to “lose control of the school.”
Airline Community School Principal Kathy Salkaln said, “For us, the one thing we’re really concerned about is keeping our school open.”
If the school, which now educates 49 students, closed, Airline students would face an unbearably long bus ride, she said.
Since voters shot down the referendum, the school systems face a penalty from the state for not meeting the deadline to consolidate. Brewer will lose about $244,000 from its 2009-10 state subsidy for not joining; Orrington, $107,000; Dedham, $55,210; SAD 63, $157,000; and CSD 8, $14,214.
The penalties are very unfortunate, but they are the lesser of two evils when compared with the costs of consolidating, Lee has said.
Work to find ways to regionalize will continue, Lee said, adding, “it would be really nice if we didn’t get penalized.”
“Tomorrow, we’ll start working on consolidation again,” he said. “This has not been a waste of time.”
The people on the RSU 15 planning committee have learned a lot from one another, and Lee is confident that a viable cost-savings plan can be created.
According to unofficial tallies provided by city or town clerks in each of the 10 communities, voters resoundingly defeated the referendum 1,973 to 300. In Brewer, there were 603 no votes and 109 yes; Orrington 465-9; Holden 304-79; Eddington 194-30; Clifton 157-14; Dedham 154-14; Aurora 24-12; Amherst 23-14; Great Pond 24-2; and Osborn 25-7.