EAST MACHIAS, Maine — A super-sized town meeting has been set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 9, at Elm Street School, where selectmen from 11 towns will obtain information on a plan to consolidate into a single school group.
The 11 towns include those in School Union 102 (Machias, Jonesboro, Marshfield, Northfield, Wesley, Roque Bluffs, Whitneyville), Union 134 (Cutler, Whiting and Machiasport), and East Machias. All are already under the guidance of a single superintendent, Scott Porter, and many already share staff, agreements and serv-ices.
Porter said Sunday that the boards would be given information about the details of the process of the unions becoming an Alternative Organizational Structure, or AOS.
An AOS is a school administrative unit that is an alternative to the regional school unit structure recommended by the state Department of Education to comply with the 2007 state law requiring school districts to consolidate administrations. It requires communities to function as a single school system that reports a single budget to the Department of Education, and has a common core curriculum and procedures for standardized testing and assessment. An AOS files reports with the state as a single unit and must adopt consistent school policies and a plan for achieving consistent collective bargaining agreements.
No financial penalty will be assessed any district or union that accomplishes reorganization before July 1. The penalty for the 11 towns combined would have been more than $200,000, Porter said.
“As scarce as resources are right now, we don’t want to lose that money,” Porter said.
The entire process needs to be on an aggressive time schedule, he added. “This is doable, but we cannot waste any time.”
There will be no vote at Tuesday’s hearing.
“This is informational only,” Porter said.
He said the meeting has been called in anticipation of an amendment to state law that should be passed next week, providing more flexibility for communities opting for an AOS.
Porter explained that the Legislature’s Education Committee voted Friday to make major changes to the AOS part of the consolidation law that would allow many rural areas of the state to consolidate.
Porter said the amendment to the consolidation law would require the Department of Education to provide individual subsidy reports to each town as well as subsidy checks to each town, along with a withdrawal process.
“With these two major changes an AOS would be an excellent option for the 11 towns served in the Machias central office,” Porter said.
Once the public hearing is held, each of the 11 towns’ boards of selectmen and each individual school committee must vote to put the issue to a public referendum vote.
Some residents, however, feel the move is being made without enough public comment.
Sandra K. Prescott of Machiasport said, “I certainly do not see an opportunity for much citizen input and local control. It makes for good theater and an opportunity for the elected officials to boast about how many people attend the meeting.”
Prescott said the individual boards of selectmen should have called for a referendum election rather than meet with all the towns in a single event.
Speaking as a Machiasport resident, Prescott asked that the board in her town “take more time to gather local input and look carefully at the Interlocal Agreement before they jump on the bandwagon.”
Richard Larson of Machias said he was concerned that the academic ramifications of becoming an AOS had not been thought through.
“I question why the officials are all of sudden in favor of an AOS when they originally were opposed,” Larson said. He agreed with Prescott that the process was without public comment.
“I’m not promoting one town over another,” he said. “I’m interested in what is best academically and financially for all 11 towns.”
Larson said a key issue is school choice, since approximately half of the 11 towns now offer school choice.
“These details should be worked out before any vote on changing the structure to an AOS,” Larson said.