House, Senate split on repealing school consolidation mandate

Posted June 05, 2009, at 10:15 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The House and Senate are divided over whether to repeal Maine’s controversial school consolidation mandate.

On Thursday, the Senate voted in support of a bill, LD 977, to repeal the law that requires school administrative units throughout the state to explore joining with others to save money.

The senators first voted on a motion to kill the bill. That failed to pass by a vote of 19 nays to 16 yeas. Then LD 977 was gaveled through without a roll-call vote.

The Senate action came one day after the House voted 72-70 against the repeal bill. The House is expected to take up the matter again next week.

The 2007 consolidation mandate aimed to reduce the number of school districts statewide from 290 to 80. But the number of units still stands at about 216 because more than 120 school units — many of them in rural areas — have not complied. In many cases, local voters rejected the consolidation plans.

“Nonconforming” schools could face financial penalties from the state, although legislation that has been endorsed by both the House and the Senate would delay those penalties for one year.

Voters would be given the final say if the Legislature fails to pass the bill or if Gov. John Baldacci vetoed the measure. Election officials have received enough signatures to place a referendum question on the November ballot asking voters whether to repeal the consolidation mandate.

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