DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine - Department of Education Commissioner Susan Gendron met Monday with the regional planning committee representing SADs 68 and 41 and Union 60, to provide an update on the new reorganization law and to answer specific questions about the process.
The law emerged from the results of a study by a national consultant who found schools in the state needed better coherence and that state officials needed to address financial considerations, according to Gendron. Despite education costs growing 4 percent across the state each year, the state was seeing flat test scores, she said Monday.
By reorganizing, Gendron said, school systems will experience cost savings and provide more opportunities for children.
“What we’ re encouraging all of the regional planning committees to look at is what are your operations, what functions will be in place we know that there’ ll be savings eventually,” Gendron said. For those towns that reject reorganization, there will be penalties, she said. Those penalties are outlined on the department’ s Web site.
The three school systems are set to vote in August on whether to proceed as a regional school unit, or RSU, or as an Alternative Organization Structure, AOS, which tends to provide a little more local control.
In an RSU, the regional unit would be the employer of all personnel, while in an AOS, each SAD or Union would remain the employer. The AOS also would retain the individual school boards but would consolidate all of the administration. In addition, the alternative structure would have separate policies for each unit but the policies would be developed collectively. In comparison, an RSU would have one set of policies.
While there is no provision in the law for an exit in an RSU if a community becomes unhappy, an exit process could be defined in an interlocal agreement that is required of an AOS, according to Gendron.
As for school choice, Gendron said the law is intended to preserve and protect choice where choice now exists. SAD 68 has an exclusive contract with Foxcroft Academy, an independent school, for the education of its students and that is not school choice, she said.
“Local control is very important to many people around our table,” Sue Mackey Andrews, said outside the meeting. Andrews represents SAD 68 but also serves as the RSU’ s spokesperson. “People feel this is being forced upon them the timelines are short.”
It’ s been a bumpy ride for SAD 68, Andrews noted. When SAD 68 first came to the table a year ago, there were four districts and Union 60 that joined in. Within the first month to six weeks, SAD 4 and 46 peeled off to form an RSU of their own together. Union 60 also looked for other alternatives but kept attending meetings with SADs 68 and 41. Then SAD 41 left the group. Since then, SAD 41 has rejoined SAD 68 and Union 60.
“What we have talked a lot about is governance because of the small schools, the number of towns and the issue of local control,” Andrews said before the meeting. “Before Milo came back [to the table], we had fashioned a regional school unit that had a union feel to it, even though we knew it would not be approved as a RSU. That was the only way we could get people to partner,” Andrews said. With the new legislation, there is an AOS that does have the flavor of the alternative structure the group earlier created but there are still many unanswered questions of what it can be and what it can look like, she said.
“We’ re on the same page as a group really wanting to make sure we see this as an opportunity for our kids,” Andrews said.