DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Having received a rejection letter regarding their request for an exemption, SAD 68 officials agreed Tuesday to reach out once again to neighboring districts in an effort to comply with the state education reorganization law.
Superintendent Alan Smith told directors Tuesday night that the Department of Education did not approve the district’s request to be exempt from the state’s required school consolidation effort because the district could not find a willing partner.
State law allows for an exception for those districts that exhaust “due diligence” regarding consolidation but are unable to find willing partners. Under that exception, also known as the “doughnut hole status,” districts would not be penalized if they could find efficiencies elsewhere.
After the state reorganization law was passed, SAD 68 directors met with officials in surrounding districts. While the other districts were willing to continue to work with SAD 68 on efficiencies, they were not interested in taking SAD 68 on as a reorganization partner.
“It was very clear in the conversation [with a state education official] in that one of the reasons we did not receive ‘doughnut hole’ status is that we have two communities on each side of us that have not consolidated,” Smith told directors Tuesday. Those two districts are SAD 4 in the Guilford area and SAD 41 in the Milo area.
The rejection requires SAD 68 to continue to reorganize or accept a lower subsidy, according to Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin. He said Wednesday that SAD 68 had filed its request before LD 570 was approved in the last legislative session. LD 570 provides a little more flexibility in the reorgani-zation law, and it is allowing a number of districts to work on configurations that they couldn’t have done under the reorganization law, Connerty-Marin explained. He said the DOE has recently approved a number of these new configurations, including one involving 11 school districts in the Machias region.
Connerty-Marin said the new law does not add any provisions for “doughnut hole” status. It does shift the burden onto districts to make the case if they have special and particular circumstances that would make them exempt from the law.
Smith, who is working to get more details regarding the district’s rejection, said leaders in neighboring districts of SAD 68 have got to “step up to the plate” and at least revisit the reorganization topic.
“It’s pretty clear to me that another process has to be created and for the right reasons,” Smith said. He said residents, some of whom expressed their concern Tuesday on proposed cuts in art and music at the elementary level, have legitimate concerns about education funding now and in future years.
The district will face a reduction in subsidy next year unless it can find a partner or can persuade the state to revisit the “doughnut hole” alternative. He said he hoped officials in the various communities would bury “the when-I-was-a-kid stuff and have some real conversations” about how the schools can do things better.
“Our survival depends upon that,” SAD 68 director Rick Johnston said.
SAD 68 director Sue Mackey Andrews agreed. “I think our due diligence demands we go back to the two boards,” she said, suggesting that Smith ask the SAD 4 and 41 superintendents to allow SAD 68 directors to discuss the issue at one of their coming meetings.