BREWER, Maine — School leaders have decided to stand alone, and offer high school contracts to outlying districts.
Superintendent Daniel Lee said after residents in January shot down a plan to consolidate with the four neighboring school districts to create Regional School Unit 15, he acted quickly to propose an alternative plan to the Department of Education for Brewer to stand alone.
“We received a notice today that the commissioner [Susan Gendron] has approved that plan,” Lee said Monday.
State officials had suggested that Brewer join with Dedham, Orrington, the SAD 63 communities of Holden, Eddington and Clifton, and the CSD 8 towns of Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn to create RSU 15. But residents in all 10 communities gave the plan a failing grade by a 6-to-1 ratio during the Jan. 27 vote.
“There were several problems with the RSU, one of them was the salaries of Brewer teachers,” which are considerably higher than their neighbors and caused budget problems, Lee said.
Debts along with school choice for out-of-town students were other “key issues” for RSU 15, he said.
“No matter what we did … there is no way to overcome those barriers,” Lee said.
After talks with DOE team members, Brewer decided to stand alone, “with the understanding that those other schools would form a K-8 RSU” and later sign contracts with Brewer to provide high school education to their students, Lee said. Students from the districts with contracts still would have school choice and be able to attend a different high school.
As part of the alternative plan, “we had to pledge that we would offer them a contract, a nonexclusive secondary contract” to ensure “they have a K-12 program. The terms of that contract have yet to be determined,” he said.
The school consolidation law requires the state’s 298 school districts to reorganize into 88 larger, more efficient systems by July 1. Each RSU must have a public or publicly supported high school, but the law allows the high school to be located outside the RSU.
A K-8 RSU would require contracts with one or more high schools in order to be approved, Gendron has said.
None of Brewer’s neighbors has taken steps to create a K-8 RSU, said Lee, who also serves as superintendent for Dedham, but the topic was discussed several times during planning committee meetings over the last two years.
If Orrington, Dedham, SAD 63 and CSD 8 do decide to create a K-8 RSU, “That unit would then sign a long-term nonexclusive contract with Brewer” ensuring students would have a high school to attend, Lee said.
Other benefits for the K-8 unit would be better-aligned teacher salaries and curriculums, and a more balanced governing board, Lee said.
Under the proposed RSU 15, Brewer held 44 percent of the vote, he said.
Brewer’s stand-alone plan demonstrates savings in administration, transportation, special education and facilities.
The alternate plan essentially “reassures the state that Brewer promises to work with these communities to be their high school,” Lee said. “These communities could elect not to [join together] … That’s entirely up to them. What is binding is our willingness to work with them” to provide K-12 education.
“Their kids are already going to school here,” Lee stressed. “Half of Brewer High School are students from those schools.”
With the thumbs down vote at the Jan. 27 referendum, Brewer and the towns from the four neighboring school districts are expected to be assessed a penalty in the form of reduced state education funding. Brewer is scheduled to lose about $244,000 from its 2009-10 state subsidy; Orrington, $107,000; Dedham, $55,210; SAD 63, $157,000; and CSD 8, $14,214.
“It’s possible that we may avoid the penalty because we acted quickly,” Lee said, referring to the alternative plan. “It would be my hope that we would because we met their requirement prior to the end of this year, and the state hasn’t issued subsidy rates yet.”