District consolidation working well, RSU 10 officials say

Posted Jan. 23, 2011, at 6:10 a.m.

DIXFIELD, Maine – Officials in Regional School Unit 10 say consolidating three districts centered in Rumford-Mexico, Dixfield and Buckfield has been a lot of work, but the consolidated system is working well.

“I think people are very much in favor of making it work,” Board of Directors Chairman Jerry Wiley of Buckfield said.

RSU 10, also called Western Foothills School District, began operating July 1, 2009, with a 17-member board. It is one of 33 RSUs formed under the state’s school consolidation law.

It comprises 12 towns: Rumford, Mexico, Byron and Roxbury from the former SAD 43; Dixfield, Canton, Carthage and Peru from the former SAD 21; Buckfield, Hartford and Sumner from the former SAD 39, and the town of Hanover.

Wiley said consolidation had to happen because of the cost of education and other factors, including declining student enrollment. “It was a little of everything.”

In 2006, the districts had a combined 3,239 students. On Oct. 1, 2008, they had 2,975. Currently, there are about 2,900 students.

School officials predict the number will eventually level out at about 2,800, RSU 10 Superintendent Tom Ward said.

“This year, Rumford and Dixfield held their own,” Wiley said. When you lose children, you lose funding, he said.

“It hasn’t all been about money,” Wiley said. “It is about leadership.”

RSU 10 retained all three high schools and it didn’t lose any teaching jobs, he said.

“We did offer an incentive for teachers who were at retirement age,” he said, and enough people took advantage of it.

The new system saved money by consolidating three central offices into one the first year, which included going from 2½ superintendents to one, Ward said. Some people went to work in the new central office in Dixfield and others chose to pursue other job opportunities, Wiley said.

The consolidated system saved about $600,000 the first year, Ward said.

“We decided to close no schools initially and there is currently no proposal to close a school,” Wiley said.

The formula devised for RSU 10 towns to share additional local money above the state’s allocated funding formula is complicated, Ward said.

Officials decided to ease into the local cost-sharing formula of 75 percent based on property valuation and 25 percent based on student enrollment, Ward said.

“It fit the best and was the most fair to all districts,” he said.

It’s an eight-year plan that is in the second year.

So far, RSU 10′s formula has worked well, Ward said.

They took the amounts that exceeded the formula for two years prior to becoming an RSU, averaged those out and froze that amount for the first three years, he said. After the third year, they will start chipping away at what he calls “the frozen block.”

The following five years they’ll take 20 percent of the frozen block each year and move it into the 75-25 formula, he said.

The funding formula worked well when Rumford’s valuation dropped significantly due to changes at the paper mill and the cost-sharing formula kicked in, he said. Overall, the district’s valuation went down, he said.

“By going down, we received more state funding and what it did is offset any additional money to all the other towns by covering the additional costs and helped to balance it out,” Ward said.

The district’s current budget is roughly $34 million, he said. “We’re still continuing to find efficiencies and save money.”

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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