May 24, 2018
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Coalition looks to improve regionalization law

By Diana Bowley, BDN Staff

GUILFORD, Maine — SAD 4 became the latest district to join the Regionalization Law Improvement Coalition, a group of several districts working to improve the law for schools that have not complied with the state’s school regionalization law.

Directors voted on Tuesday to join the coalition, which has engaged the law firm of Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau and Pachios of Augusta to lobby the Department of Education and the Legislature for change in the regionalization law.

SAD 4 Superintendent Paul Stearns said the coalition is in support of four primary goals:

1. Changing the penalty structure to allow districts time to work under proposed improved conditions and to take into account dire economic conditions and projected funding reduction.

“It’s becoming more and more obvious to everyone except those at the highest administrative level of the state that the penalties are blatantly unfair,” Stearns said.

2. Granting the commissioner authority to reduce the number of students required in a Regional School Unit, or RSU, or an Alternative Operating Structure, or AOS, from the current level of 1,200, provided those receiving the exemption demonstrate a plan for cost reductions and improved delivery of administrative services.

3. Creating a mechanism in the law for a town to switch from one school system to another if it benefited their pupils.

Stearns said in the old law it was difficult to change, but a town could change school districts. Now, “it’s you’re in and you’re in forever,” he said.

4. Easing cooperation by developing a strategy for the department to provide General Purpose Aid allocations depending on the needs of a particular RSU or AOS.

“Those goals fall in line very closely with what the SAD 4 board has been saying all along,” Stearns said.

Of consolidation, directors on Tuesday were “very adamant” about not consolidating for the wrong reasons — for reasons of just compliance, according to Stearns. He said directors have said from the beginning that if consolidation benefits education, improves programming, provides better opportunities for children or reduces costs, or any combination of those, they would be interested. “But if it’s merely about just complying for the sake of complying, they’re not interested.”

Directors voted to submit an application in the new state funding cycle for major capital improvements to Piscataquis Community High School. “It’s very likely that no [state] money will be available for that for an extended period of time,” Stearns said. However, Stearns recommended that the district at least file an application as a place holder should funds become available. The move creates no obligation to the district, he said. He noted that the Tri County Vocational Technical Center in Dexter also is filing an application.

In other action, directors extended Stearns’ contract by two years, taking his contract through June 30, 2015. At his request, his salary will remain at $96,308. He does not have a benefit package, he said.

The board also voted to turn Feb. 12 and April 16 into full student days and reduce the student calendar by one day by turning the last day of school into a staff day.

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