The latest round of balloting on proposed school reorganization plans resolved the issue for some towns, but left many still without an approved plan.
Of the 18 plans up for a vote in Tuesday’s voting, four received outright approval from voters. Fourteen plans were rejected as proposed, but in some cases, the plans allowed for new units to be formed in the event that just some of the partners approved the plan.
The state Department of Education counts as an approval those referendums in which a new district will be formed even though some of the partners rejected the plan. Based on that accounting, the department reported Wednesday that seven plans had been approved and 11 rejected.
In the Caribou area, for example, the plan included language that allowed the towns that approved the plan to move forward without partners that might reject it, as long as it was accepted by school districts representing “59 percent of the average number of resident pupils within all of the SAUs in the proposed region.”
Voters in Caribou, Limestone and Stockholm approved the plan and will take steps to form a new regional district. Voters in the partner towns in SAD 20, Fort Fairfield, Caswell, New Sweden, Westmanland and Woodland rejected the plan and will work to seek other options.
There did not appear to be any pattern in the way the votes turned out, Connerty-Marin said.
“In areas where they focused on creating educational opportunities for students rather than focusing on the money — that’s where we’ve seen the successes,” he said.
The department plans to work now with the districts that have approved reorganization to prepare to have the new districts running for the start of the 2009-10 school year. That deadline was set in the reorganization law approved by legislators in 2007.
“We are turning our focus to the 24 regions where voters approved plans and we will be assisting those school systems in transitioning to a regional unit,” said Education Commissioner Susan Gendron. “We are already assisting the regions that voted to move forward in November with the work of combining budgets, computer systems, transportation and other functions.”
Gendron said a new team of independent facilitators also is working with those regions to focus solely on the educational planning process.
The department also will work with regions that have not yet voted to reorganize, she said.
“We are reaching out to every one of those school systems to see what they want to do next, and how we can help,” Gendron said. “We are not walking away from them.”
Gov. John Baldacci said he was pleased with the progress to date and hoped that “all levels of government will continue to work toward streamlining in whatever ways are possible.”
“We’re in a recession and resources will be thinner at all levels of government,” the governor said. “We can’t be satisfied with business as usual.”
Baldacci noted that Maine communities so far have consolidated 128 school districts into 62, but warned that more work remains to be done.
“Many of our smallest school systems did not get there,” he said. “Change is always difficult, but we have seen most districts work well together to create more efficient administrative functions that will not only save taxpayers money, but will also preserve challenged resources for educational programming.”
By the department’s count, voters have approved 24 plans, and 22 have been rejected. Another 38 plans were approved by the commissioner and did not require voter approval because they were not required to join with any other districts to meet the enrollment levels mandated by the law.
To date, 284 of the 290 school administrative units in the state have submitted locally drafted plans that were approved by the commissioner. More than half the regions that voted on reorganization plans approved their plans.
Gendron noted that “approximately 80 percent of the students in the state are in school units that met the requirements of the law and were given final approval — by the voters, in the case of reorganization plans, and by the commissioner for alternative plans.”
About two-thirds of those students — a little more than 100,000 students — were in school units that were not required to join with others.
A full tally of the status of all reorganization plans may be found at www.maine.gov/education/reorg/plansandresponses.html. Click on the “Summary Chart” link.