DEDHAM, Maine — Residents of Dedham and nearby Orrington will vote Monday on whether to consolidate school systems under a plan that would maintain local control and high school choice as well as save money, Dedham school board chairwoman Sue Rocha said this week.
School and town officials, working with local residents, have been working on a school consolidation plan for more than three years, she said. “It’s been a long, long time, but I think we hit the right formula. It’s a good plan and is perfect for both schools.”
Under the proposed Dedham-Orrington Alternative Organizational Structure, each town’s school department would have its own budget and school board. An AOS board would manage a combined superintendent and special education office.
If residents in both towns endorse the AOS, approved by the Department of Education in mid-December, the towns also will avoid another penalty for not consolidating under the state’s 2007 school consolidation law, Orrington Superintendent Allen Snell said this week.
Orrington was charged a penalty of nearly $120,000 this school year, for not consolidating and Dedham was assessed around $60,000.
“If it is approved [by voters] and we get [everything] going and open by July 1, that would allow us to avoid the penalty” for fiscal year 2011-12, Snell said.
The penalty is one issue, but the hot topic of discussion has been maintaining high school choice, which is guaranteed under the plan, Rocha said.
“The big thing in Dedham and Orrington is school choice and we have that,” she said. “Once people found that out, there was nothing to argue about.”
Both Dedham Elementary School and Center Drive School in Orrington are prekindergarten through eighth grade schools, so both communities have agreed to a nonexclusive contract with Brewer High School to provide secondary education to the two towns’ high school students.
Students still can attend John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor and other high schools of their choice, Rocha said.
Under the proposed Dedham-Orrington AOS, each town would maintain its current school boards and the new AOS board would have six members — four from Orrington and two from Dedham — selected from the two boards.
“The AOS board will have to hire a superintendent and create a budget to be ready to open on July 1,” Snell said.
Dedham and Orrington officials already have agreed that the AOS office would be located at Center Drive School in Orrington, he said.
Voting booths will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday in Orrington at the town hall, and Dedham voters should head to the Dedham Fire Station between 3 and 6 p.m. to vote.
Absentee ballots are available in both towns. Notes from the local consolidation public hearings are posted on the Center Drive School website, cds.u91.k12.me.us, and the Dedham Elementary School website, dedhamschool.net.