New state school consolidation law concerns RSU 73 officials

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LIVERMORE FALLS — A new state law to create regional service centers in Maine to reduce the number of school superintendents was a topic of extensive discussion among Regional School Unit 73 directors and Superintendent Kenneth Healey at Thursday’s meeting.

Healey said he met with state Rep. Tina Riley, D-Jay, to express his concerns.

The time frame is part of the problem, he said, as the Maine Department of Education has requested school districts to partner with a neighboring school system.

The deadline for applications is Nov. 30, according to a state education website.

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“This is an effort to force school departments and school districts to regionalize,” Healey said. It’s being funded by taking state subsidy away from school districts.

He said if subsidy is reduced to the schools, it would shift costs from the state to local taxpayers.

There is also the issue of local control, Healey said. Now, if a school system isn’t satisfied with its superintendent, the board could remove them.

“That will be more difficult to do under the new arrangement,” he said. “It will create another layer of bureaucracy.”

Superintendents across Maine are frustrated with the edict, Healey said.

“I think we’re going to be forced at some point to regionalize something, but we need more time to do so,” he said.

RSU 73 Director Robert Staples advised tabling the matter.

“I would be very opposed to giving up local control,” he said.

Board member Doug DiPasquale said RSU 73 already shares services with surrounding school districts. He said there may be other opportunities to regionalize instead of entering into the kind of agreement the state has proposed.

RSU 73 Adult Education Director Robyn Raymond said Maine’s adult education programs are facing a major funding issue because Gov. Paul LePage is withholding $8 million for workforce innovation and opportunity. As of this month, financial assistance for laid-off workers for classes and mileage has ended.

Raymond added that all of RSU 73’s career center partners have received layoff notices because of the governor’s actions.

“This is a huge impact event, another blow to the economy,” she said. “Especially with what was going on at Verso (paper mill in Jay) with workers who lost their jobs, retrained, and then got hit with this, it’s devastating.”

RSU 73 includes Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls.

Raymond said she has written letters to local legislators asking them to put pressure on LePage to release the funds.

Special Services Director Tina Collins said that a number of special needs students have moved into RSU 73 since the start of the school year, requiring one-on-one services.

“The sheer number of them this year was a surprise,” she said. “We have a moral and ethical obligation to provide for these children.”

Collins said that staff was being reallocated to serve the children.

In other business, the board set a special meeting for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, to discuss suspension/expulsion of a student. A regular board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26.

bmatulaitis@sunmediagroup.net

Spruce Mountain High School social worker Karen Barnes, left, makes a presentation to the RSU 73 board of directors at Thursday’s meeting.

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