The path ahead on school consolidation

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Some common themes and concerns about reorganization have emerged

The school administrative reorganization law passed by the Legislature on June 7 required the Maine Department of Education to hold 26 informational meetings statewide before July 15. We held our first meetings 11 days later, and will hold our last ones this Thursday in Lewiston and in Skowhegan. (We will hold one Wednesday at Mt. Blue High School.)

I thought it would be helpful to offer a briefing before the meetings this week on what we have been hearing, some of the fears (I believe I can allay some of them, though perhaps not all), and offer some thoughts about how we can move forward together to make re-organization as successful as possible for our communities, and most important, for our students.

Here are some of the most common questions we have been asked:

• For those of us living in communities where our children have a choice of one or more public and/or private high schools, will they still have that choice?

This is an easy one to answer: yes. Communities that have choice for their students now will continue to have choice after reorganization. These protections are found in Section 1479 of the law, which can be found on our website: www.maine.gov/education.

• Who starts the process of creating a Reorganization Planning Committee?

Everyone. We encourage school officials to invite municipal officials to the table and work together on a plan for developing the notice of intent, which is due Aug. 31, and prepare the reorganization plan, due Dec. 1. In the end, however, it is the existing school administrative units that will submit the paperwork.

• What if we are an exception from the 2,500 student requirement; do we still have to file a plan?

Yes; all existing school units, even those over 2,500, need to at least explore options for re-organizing and merging. If they choose not to, they must file an alternative plan which will show how they intend to meet the required savings without adversely impacting the instructional program.

Great work is already underway as school boards, superintendents, parents, community leaders and others have begun conversations about possible mergers. In some places, the conversations have been ongoing for several years.

• How does this help education?

Studies have revealed too many layers of administration and governance stand in the way of ensuring a common understanding of Maine’s Learning Results standards and best teaching methods and practices makes it to every classroom in the state. Our test scores, among the highest in the nation just five years ago, have remained flat.

I want to see every district have a person dedicated to curriculum coordination and every superintendent able to guide learning and instruction, without being distracted by duties that should be handled by a business manager.

I am also worried about what will happen two years from now, when education spending falls under state spending limits and the financial squeeze gets tighter. I want our limited resources to go into the classroom, into better pay for teachers and resources for children, not to duplicate administrative services and overhead.

I see an opportunity to focus energy and resources on our classrooms and believe the hurdles we encounter along this path of transition will be surmountable with all of us working creatively for the best interests of our children.

Susan Gendron is commisisoner of the Maine Department of Education.

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