Down East towns delay action on consolidation

Posted March 31, 2009, at 7:09 p.m.

HARRINGTON, Maine — Representatives of the six towns in SAD 37 and schools in Jonesport-Beals, Deblois and Beddington on Monday night decided to delay any final action on plans for complying with the state requirement to consolidate school administrations.

In referendum votes last year, the SAD 37 towns and Deblois voted to support a Regional School Unit plan, but voters in Jonesport, Beals and Beddington rejected it, sending the Regional Planning Committee back to the drawing board.

Since then the committee has been considering the possibility of forming an Alternative Organizational Structure, under which a regional board would assume administrative functions but towns control their own schools.

“The difficult part of all this will be the interlocal agreement,” said Ray Freve, the state-appointed coordinator for the process who is interim superintendent of SAD 56.

Much of Monday’s meeting was devoted to going over the details of an Alternative Organizational Structure with an outline provided by Freve, including maintaining “consistent” policies for educational programs and personnel contracts among the various towns. Other issues touched on included how combining administration of departments such as budget, calendar, transportation and special education would affect each town’s schools and budgets.

Towns must approve a legal framework for sharing costs and responsibilities to the regional board. Freve said he would present an outline for the document at the Regional Planning Committee’s next meeting April 27.

Department of Education Director of Finance and Operation Jim Rier said in a phone interview that it is unlikely the towns will have time to enact the Alternative Organizational Structure plan for the next school year, which begins July 1. The consolidation law provides financial penalties for towns that do not comply.

Freve said that by the time the Regional Planning Committee accepts an interlocal agreement and sends it to the Education Department for approval, it will be later this year before the towns’ residents vote on it, so any regionalization could not take effect until the 2010-11 school year.

SAD 37 comprises Addison, Cherryfield, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Harrington and Milbridge.

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