Surry, Unions 93, 76 to discuss school consolidation

Posted May 12, 2010, at 10:20 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:44 a.m.

BLUE HILL, Maine — Representatives from two school unions that rejected consolidation will meet next week to decide whether to take another look at forming a joint school district.

The meeting for Union 93, Union 76 and Surry will take place at 6 p.m. Monday, May 17, at Blue Hill Consolidated School to discuss the possibility of forming an alternative operational structure.

Union 93 includes Blue Hill, Brooksville, Castine and Penobscot; Union 76 includes Brooklin, Deer Isle, Sedgwick and Stonington.

The nine towns developed a plan to consolidate in 2008, but voters in all but two of the towns rejected the plan. Only voters in Castine and Surry approved the plan.

According to Superintendents Robert Webster in Union 76 and Mark Hurvitt in Union 93, changes in the school reorganization law since that time, including changes adopted by the Legislature this year, make the process potentially more palatable.

“All the draconian measures that could not be agreed on have been removed,” Hurvitt said. “We now have more flexible guidelines.”

Among the changes in law were provisions to require subsidy checks to be sent individually to member towns, an opt-out process allowing a member town to leave an AOS or RSU, the ability to retain the existing local school committees, and no minimum number of students requirement, according to Hurvitt.

One provision was not changed: the financial penalty imposed upon school districts that do not consolidate. The Legislature postponed the penalties for one year, but they will be in effect in the coming school year. Seven of the nine towns were hit with the penalties, which total an estimated $300,000 for the coming school year. Because the towns of Castine and Surry voted in favor of the initial consolidation plan, they were not penalized in the coming year.

“Primarily, we’re looking to restore the state subsidy, which seven of the nine towns are losing as a result of not consolidating,” Webster said. “In the long run, we may find some savings in central office costs, but we’re not touting that as a reason to do this.”

According to the superintendents, there has been some discussion of restarting the process among individual school committees, and there has been some support for looking closely at some type of consolidation. But this will be the first meeting of at least one representative from each of the committees to gauge interest.

If the towns agree to begin the process, a proposed plan would need to be approved by the state Department of Education and by the voters. It is possible that a plan could be ready for a vote at the November elections so that it could take effect at the start of the 2011 school year.

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