HOULTON, Maine — Although uncertain what the process will entail, the SAD 29 board voted Monday to form a committee to begin talking with nearby SAD 70 in Hodgdon about consolidating administration in an effort to collaborate even more extensively than the districts already do toward saving money and maximizing efficiency.
Superintendent Steve Fitzpatrick said Tuesday that a four-member committee is expected to meet with representatives from SAD 70 as soon as possible.
“I would like to set up a meeting this month, if I could,” he said.
During an SAD 70 board meeting early last month, directors told district Superintendent Robert McDaniel to explore joining SAD 29 in Houlton as a regional school unit.
The Hodgdon school board had been in regionalization talks with SAD 25 in Stacyville and Community School District 9 in Dyer Brook. After four meetings, the school board decided instead to consider joining forces with Houlton.
The school district needs to partner with other districts to form a regional school unit in order to comply with the state law passed in June 2007 requiring that the state’s 290 school districts be administratively reorganized into approximately 80 regional units governed by regional boards.
Last March, SAD 29 in Houlton received permission from the state Department of Education to move forward alone under the state regionalization law.
SAD 29 has more than 1,300 students, which is above the minimum of 1,200 needed under the law to form a regional school unit.
Hodgdon is too small to form a school unit of its own. There are just two schools in the district, and only 165 students attend Hodgdon High School.
Fitzpatrick said the majority of school board members who attended Monday night’s meeting were in favor of discussing consolidation with SAD 70. Still, he said, there are a lot of “unanswered questions” about the process that will challenge the two districts as they move forward.
“SAD 29 is an RSU already, and we have been standing on our own,” he said. “I do not believe that the process for others to join us has been tested yet. I have not heard of another district in the state joining an RSU after it has formed, so there are a lot of questions that we will need to ask the state.”
Houlton is just five miles from Hodgdon. The school districts have collaborated in the past in several areas, including in adult education services and a high school hockey team.
That collaboration continues, Fitzpatrick said, and Hodgdon is not the only district that is involved in the partnership.
Fitzpatrick pointed out that in 2007, SAD 29, SAD 70, SAD 25, SAD 14 in Danforth, and CSD 9 received a $25,000 Efficiency Fund grant through the state. The grant gave officials the money to study and draft a proposal regarding possible short- and long-term ideas on how the region could better collaborate to save money and increase efficiency.
“Because of that grant, we already do a number of things to collaborate with other districts and save money for taxpayers in the entire region,” Fitzpatrick said. “We have streamlined food services, we collaborate on purchases and do things to save money on transportation and on extracurricular activities. All of this goes a long way to save money for the taxpayers at a time when the economy is unstable.”
Fitzpatrick said he has drafted some dates for the SAD 29 committee to meet with representatives from SAD 70.
“I expect that we will be holding several meetings in the coming months,” he said.