AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage fleshed out his plan to slash the number of school superintendents in Maine with the release Tuesday of a new bill that continues on a path the governor has already laid with an executive order and numerous public statements.
Cutting administrative costs at Maine schools was one of the core topics during a lengthy news conference on education funding Tuesday at the State House. LePage’s staff handed out the new bill, which has not yet been printed by the Legislature’s Revisor of Statutes, near the end of the event.
The proposal would allow for between nine and 12 “Maine School Management Centers” that could share administrative costs, creating a path toward a goal that the Republican governor outlined in January of nudging districts toward school consolidation with incentives, not penalties.
The centers would be created voluntarily, relying on agreements between existing districts. Costs for accounting, payroll and student information systems would be fully paid by the state. Each center would have an executive director and the state would cover 55 percent of that person’s salary.
The bill is part of the LePage administration’s EMBRACE initiative, which announced $2.7 million in awards to collaborating Maine school districts earlier this month. The administration says those awards will result in total savings of $16.2 million over five years.
LePage created the consolidation program as a pilot project in early January, when he issued an executive order that identified $3 million in unused construction bond funding and unused funds that were set aside for districts that experience sudden and severe revenue fluctuations.
LePage has asked the Legislature to approve another $11 million over the next two years for more school and municipal consolidation grants.
John Kosinski, director of government relations for the Maine Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the consolidation initiatives have been valuable and should “continue to play out.” But he said LePage’s focus on administrative costs is more aimed at muting the effects of a 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000 that voters passed in 2016 as a way of funneling more state aid to classrooms..
“If we’re talking about consolidation — as long as it’s focused on students — I don’t think you’re going to see a problem,” he said. “But this is all just a shell game to get out of Question 2.”
LePage and the teachers union, which does not represent superintendents, have bickered for more than a year over Question 2, which the governor has blasted as a tax increase that drives professionals out of Maine. Union representatives portray it as a way to finally comply with a 2004 referendum that called for the state to pay 55 percent of the total cost of public K-12 education.
Tuesday’s event at the State House appeared to be the beginning of a series of news conferences designed to tout the governor’s proposals as the Legislature intensifies its consideration of LePage’s $6.8 billion biennial state budget bill. LePage said Tuesday morning that he plans to hold similar events on the subjects of energy and taxes on Thursday and sometime next week.