DEDHAM, Maine — School leaders in town and in Orrington asked Education Commissioner Susan Gendron in January about creating a regional school unit together, with a waiver for population, and are still waiting for an answer, Dedham Superintendent Daniel Lee said Thursday.
A proposed bill working its way through the Legislature that would allow districts, which have been unsuccessful in consolidating in the past, to join together without meeting the minimum student population, may be delaying her decision, said Lee, who also is Brewer’s superintendent.
“I think there are so many bills under consideration right now, she’s not doing anything until the dust settles,” he said.
LD 1203 “also eliminates penalties that would otherwise apply to such school administrative units,” the bill’s summary states. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Sutherland, D-Chapman, is one of many relating to school consolidation under review.
The Dedham School Board voted Jan. 19 and the Orrington School Committee voted on Jan. 5 to issue letters of intent to Gendron about joining together. Both were part of a proposed unit with Brewer, SAD 63 and CSD 8 last year that voters in all 10 communities resoundingly rejected during a January 2009 referendum.
SAD 63 includes the communities of Eddington, Holden and Clifton, and CSD 8 includes the communities of Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. Those two school districts and Otis are currently talking about consolidating and also are waiting to see what Gendron does, SAD 63 Superintendent Ray Hart has said.
The move makes sense for Orrington and Dedham because both school systems are similar and have a strong willingness to work together, Lee said. The partnership also would preserve the two schools, Center Drive School in Orrington and Dedham School, which are community gathering points for their towns, he said.
In the January letters, the two school systems asked the commissioner to provide them a waiver because there are only around 900 or so students in the two schools, which falls below the 1,200 state cutoff, Lee said.
Dedham now pays Brewer a little more than $100,000 annually for superintendent and special education services and access to a business manager. But “Orrington could easily handle Dedham’s service needs,” Lee has said, adding that no positions would be lost in either school department.
“This is certainly a bad time to say no to any consolidation that saves money,” he said.
The school boards from both towns plan to vote at their next meetings to create a regional planning committee, with school officials, town officials and residents of each community, sitting down together to create a consolidation plan, Lee said.
The votes will basically allow the two school districts “to begin talking,” he said.
While that process begins, Brewer will continue to provide services to Dedham, Lee said.
The delay isn’t bothering Lee, he said, because the towns would never meet the next state deadline to consolidate — June 30 — anyway.
“We could never get organized by the first of July,” he said. Lee still hopes LD 1203 will pass to prevent the two schools from getting fined by the state.
“If all goes well they’ll be working together” by fall or early 2011, he said.