HOLDEN, Maine — After being hit with a $178,000 penalty last year for failing to consolidate and learning that two potential partners have decided to create their own school union, local school officials now are looking to consolidate with communities along the Airline.
SAD 63 officials have gained approval to create an alternative organizational structure with longtime partner CSD 8. The first regional planning committee meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Holbrook Middle School.
“We’ve been connected to the Airline for many years,” Dave Anderson, who serves as superintendent for both school units, said Tuesday.
The SAD 63 communities of Holden, Eddington and Clifton and the CSD 8 towns of Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn already share “central office services, the superintendent, transportation and operations,” he said, adding that the AOS would make the partnership official.
The regional planning committee consists of one school board member, one town selectman and one resident from each town, so it will be large, Anderson said.
“Potentially, there could be up to 21 people from seven different communities” at the meeting, he said.
Since the school consolidation law was enacted in 2007, local school officials have spent hundreds of hours attempting to find partners and abide by the law.
“We were penalized over $178,000 for not having consolidated even though we’ve been trying, and doing our due diligence,” said Anderson, who is also the Holden Elementary School principal. “We don’t want to incur any future penalties.”
State officials suggested in 2007 that the SAD 63 communities of Holden, Eddington and Clifton and the CSD 8 towns of Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn join with Brewer, Dedham and Orrington to create RSU 15.
Voters in all 10 communities resoundingly rejected the proposed RSU 15 during a January 2009 referendum, and Brewer later applied and was granted standalone status with the understanding that Brewer High School would be the public high school for the other communities.
At one point there was talk of a pre-K through eighth-grade RSU with the remaining nine communities, but that idea fizzled in January when officials in Dedham and Orrington applied for and gained approval to be partners.
“We really didn’t have a lot of options once Orrington and Dedham decided to do something together,” Anderson said.
The benefit of the AOS is that it maintains local control, with each school unit having a school board and a joint board handling the central office budget and the superintendent, Anderson said.
“It really makes sense,” he said. “We’ll look for any savings and efficiencies that we can find” and “in our plan we’ll have a mechanism for additional partners” to join.
It will be awhile before the regional planning committee is prepared to present consolidation plans to residents, but the hope is that the vote can be held before the school year ends in June 2011.
“We’re going to have to be lean and efficient, there is no doubt about it,” Anderson said.