Orrington, Dedham consider school pact

Posted Jan. 21, 2010, at 9:37 p.m.

ORRINGTON, Maine — Local school leaders who have been working on a plan to save money through school consolidation for three years have submitted yet another plan — this time partnering with Dedham.

“Both school committees voted unanimously to pursue the RPC [regional planning committee] with one another,” Superintendent Allen Snell said Thursday.

The Orrington School Committee voted on an. 5 and the Dedham School Board voted Jan. 19 to issue a letter of intent to Education Commissioner Susan Gendron about joining.

The move makes sense, Dedham Superintendent Daniel Lee said, adding that the commissioner would have to give the proposed regional school unit a waiver because the total of 900 or so students in the two schools falls below the 1,200 cutoff.

“Orrington and Dedham are very similar departments and there is a strong willingness to work together,” said Lee, who also is Brewer’s superintendent. “We think we might be able to make this work.”

Dedham pays Brewer a little more than $100,000 annually for superintendent and special education services and access to a business manager, he said.

“Orrington could easily handle Dedham’s service needs,” Lee said, adding that no positions would be lost in either school department.

The partnership also would preserve the two schools, Center Drive School in Orrington and Dedham School, which are community gathering points for their respective towns, Lee said.

“In Orrington, they’re not going to swallow us up, and we’re not going to swallow them up,” he said.

School leaders from both communities are awaiting word from Gendron, who has final say in the matter.

But they are not alone.

School officials in SAD 63, CSD 8 and Otis also are awaiting word about Gendron’s decision, SAD 63 Superintendent Ray Hart said.

“We’re in a holding pattern,” he said.

Those school units have held discussions for the last year about joining forces with Dedham and Orrington.

SAD 63 includes the communities of Eddington, Holden and Clifton, and CSD 8 includes the communities of Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn.

State officials originally suggested Brewer join with Dedham, Orrington, SAD 63 and CSD 8 to create RSU 15. But after going through the lengthy process of creating the proposed RSU, the planning committee discovered it would be costly because Brewer pays its teachers and staff considerably more than the other communi-ties do.

After voters in all 10 communities rejected the plan during a referendum held in January 2009, Brewer received permission from Gendron to stand alone, with the understanding that area students from those sending communities could use the city’s high school.

If Gendron approves the Orrington and Dedham RSU, then, Ray said, he planned to get together with school officials in CSD 8, and possibly Otis, about creating their own RSU.

If not, the four small Brewer-area school departments would have to begin the consolidation process anew, Hart said.

“Where we go from here, who knows?” Hart said.

Either way Gendron decides, few involved in the process say it’s possible to meet this year’s June 30 deadline to consolidate, which means the communities involved more than likely will pay a penalty.

“It would be difficult to get it accomplished,” Snell said.

The state waived penalties for the 10 communities last year for not creating an RSU.

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