Education commissioner Consolidation will save money

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She’s getting the question a lot these days.

How will cutting school districts and superintendents across Maine save as much as $241 million in three years?

Susan Gendron insisted Friday that savings in Gov. John Baldacci’s school administrative plan are solid and will reach $241 million or more ($262 million by her estimates) over three years if passed by legislators.

The savings will go back to taxpayers, Gendron said. That money won’t have to be raised from municipalities or the state. “It will be tax relief,” she said.

Gendron broke down four big areas of savings:

$124 million from cutting central offices and staff from 152 to 26. Across Maine more than 1,244 people – superintendents, assistant superintendents, business managers, human resource officers, special education and curriculum directors, payroll and clerical staff – work in those 126 offices, Gendron said.

She estimated that only between 350 and 400 people would be needed, a reduction of about 844 jobs. But staffing levels would be up to the regional boards.

$52 million savings from operational costs. Cutting central offices by about 83 percent would bring about bulk purchasing of items such as cleaning products and toilet paper.

$24 million saved from transportation. Instead of having 220 separate transportation fleets, there would be 26, Gendron said. That would save money because fuel could be purchased in bulk and consolidation would allow more fuel-efficient routing.

$62 million from special education savings. Many school administrative units hire special services such as occupational or physical therapy, but small districts contract them hourly, Gendron said. Bigger districts would allow lower costs.

Contracts and standards

Labor contracts would be transferred to the 26 new districts on July 1, 2008, Gendron said. Within two years each district would have a single teacher contract, said Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin.

Some teachers, especially those in smaller, rural towns where the pay is less, stand to make more money with the single contracts. Teacher pay would be up to each of the 26 regional school boards.

Gendron predicted education would improve under the governor’s plan. Ten years from now there would be greater academic performance throughout Maine, she said.

It would be easier for administrators and teachers to learn from one another and talk about best practices.

When asked how all of this could be done by July 2008, Gendron responded, “businesses do it every day.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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