DEDHAM, Maine — Exiting Education Commissioner Susan Gendron, who left the department at the end of April to take a job in Washington, D.C., endorsed a consolidation request from Orrington and Dedham just before leaving.
“The letter [approving the partnership] arrived Friday,” Orrington Superintendent Allen Snell said Monday.
School leaders in town and in Orrington asked Gendron in January about creating a Regional School Unit together, with a waiver for population. Gendron asked the two departments to file “unique or particular circumstance” paperwork, then approved the partnership in letters sent Wednesday, Snell said. Her last day was Friday.
The next step in the consolidation process is to create a regional planning committee, which will consist of one school board member, one town selectman, and one resident from each town, who will sit down and iron out the details for the new district. That plan will be presented to residents in both towns for final approval.
“We’re targeting November to go to vote,” Dedham Superintendent Daniel Lee said.
State officials had suggested that Dedham and Orrington join with Brewer, the SAD 63 communities of Holden, Eddington and Clifton, and the CSD 8 towns of Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn to create RSU 15.
Voters in all 10 communities resoundingly rejected the proposed RSU 15 during a January 2009 referendum. Snell and Lee both said the lengthy research done to create that union will be used to create the new two-unit union.
“We’ve already done one plan,” said Lee, who also serves as superintendent in Brewer. “We just need to update it and review it and see if it works for both communities.”
After the planned RSU 15 failed, Brewer applied and was granted stand-alone status and agreed to provide a public high school to the other communities.
Officials in Dedham and Orrington “have to preserve school choice, but they also have to have an agreement with Brewer High School to serve as their public high school,” Lee said.
The new planning committee will have to work out details about that agreement, he said.
All RSUs must have a public or publicly supported high school, but the law allows the high school to be located outside the RSU. The remaining communities in the proposed RSU 15 continue to talk consolidation and have had discussions with Otis.
The proposed Orrington and Dedham partnership would save money, Snell said.
“We think we can combine the two central office operations into one,” he said. “We believe we can save quite a bit from that.”
Dedham now pays Brewer a little more than $100,000 annually for superintendent and special education services and access to a business manager. Lee has said that Orrington could easily handle Dedham’s service needs.
“That’s the plan, to get this group up and running,” Lee said. “Hopefully, we can be a school department by July 1, 2011.”