Orrington, Dedham gain state approval for AOS

Posted Dec. 29, 2010, at 7:45 p.m.

ORRINGTON, Maine — The Department of Education has approved an alternative organizational structure for Dedham and Orrington that maintains local control and high school choice, as well as saving money by creating a combined superintendent and special education office.

“It was approved Dec. 16, [and] the printed approval came in today’s mail,” Orrington Superintendent Allen Snell said Wednesday.

Next, residents in the two towns must vote on the AOS and on a nonexclusive contract with Brewer to provide secondary education to their high school students.

That referendum vote is scheduled for Jan. 31 in both Dedham and Orrington.

The Department of Education will waive the penalties for 2011 if the towns ratify the AOS by that date, Orrington school board Chairman Kyle Casburn said Wednesday. “We’re trying to have this vote done by Jan. 31 so we can meet their deadline,” he said.

Orrington was charged a nearly $120,000 penalty this year for not consolidating under the state’s 2007 school consolidation law, and Dedham was assessed around $60,000.

To educate residents about the upcoming referendum, two public information meetings are scheduled. Orrington’s meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 5, with the regular school board meeting held afterward at 7 p.m. Dedham plans to present the plan to its residents Jan. 12.

Under the proposed Orrington-Dedham AOS, the Dedham School Department will have its own budget and the Orrington School Department will have its own budget, and there will be a combined superintendent and special education office, Snell explained.

The AOS board would have six members — four from Orrington and two from Dedham — and would be charged with hiring a superintendent and creating a central office budget, he said.

Dedham and Orrington officials already have agreed that the AOS office will be located in Orrington, since Center Drive School has more space, Snell said.

With a majority of the high school-age students in both communities attending Brewer High School, the decision was made to enter into a nonexclusive contract with Brewer.

The contract with Brewer, which still must be ratified, is modeled after the one created by Mount Desert Island Regional School System and its sending communities, Mark Farley, Brewer School Committee chairman, said Wednesday.

“Basically, it allows Brewer to charge for debt service” associated with money borrowed for improvements to Brewer High School, he said.

“It will allows Brewer to charge up to 10 percent of the tuition rate,” Farley said, emphasizing that “this is new debt service, not old debt.”

The proposed 10-year contract must be approved by both Orrington and Dedham. How much the towns are charged “will really depend on how many dollars of improvement we put into the high school over the next 10 years,” Farley said. “For the first year of the contract, there should be no cost to the sending communities.”

While the nonexclusive contract is modeled after MDI’s, it differs in one major way, Farley said.

“The Mount Desert Island contract has a minimum number [of students] requirement,” he said. “We will not have that minimum requirement.”

The proposed contract is on the Brewer School Committee agenda for Monday, Jan. 3, and will be discussed at the Jan. 5 Orrington school board meeting.

The contract provides a high school for all students and preserves school choice at the same time, Casburn said.

“We think it’s a fair and reasonable approach to making sure we have a place to send our high school students,” he said. “We have a long, historic partnership with Brewer. It achieves our goal of actually forming the AOS and strengthens our partnership with Brewer.”

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