BETHEL — School Administrative District 44 directors voted unanimously Monday evening to approve submitting a preliminary application to the Maine Department of Education for the district to form a regional service center with six other districts.
The regional center would be formed for the purpose of providing special education day treatment services, substitute teacher training, hiring and management and food service menu planning and bulk purchasing.
In addition to SAD 44, the proposed regional service center would include RSU 9 based in Farmington, RSU 10 based in Rumford, RSU 56 based in Dixfield, RSU 58 based in Phillips, RSU 73 based in Livermore Falls and RSU 78 based in Rangeley.
According to SAD 44’s attorney, by forming a regional service center to provide the three designated services, the seven districts together would receive a total of more than $1.25 million in additional state funds in the first year.
That figure would increase to more than $1.6 million in the second year of regionalization.
SAD 44 Superintendent David Murphy told the board that the DOE’s budget for fiscal year 2018 includes funding dedicated to supporting regional service centers, as well as a financial incentive for districts to combine services.
“Beginning next year, all school districts will no longer see a $46 per student contribution by the state that we’re currently receiving as part of our system administration budgets,” he said.
If, however, districts become part of a regional service center, “Not only would we continue to receive that $46 per student, but we would also potentially be eligible for some additional funds to support this regional service effort,” said Murphy.
He said the district’s attorney estimates that becoming part of a regional service center would make SAD 44 eligible for additional state funding of between $60,000 and $75,000 annually.
Murphy said a regional service center would be required to employ an executive director, with the state paying 55 percent of the salary and benefits for that position.
School districts that may be interested in becoming part of a regional service center have until Nov. 30 to complete the first step of the nonbinding application process.
“If, as this all works out, this becomes something you don’t want to do, then in April you have a second vote, and at that point in time you can decide to continue to move forward with this effort, or not,” Murphy told directors.
A decision to become part of a regional service center would need to be approved by district voters, most likely at the annual public school district budget meeting in May.
Murphy said SAD 44 is already participating in a collaborative effort with Regional School Unit 10 in Rumford and five other school districts to fund a day treatment center in Rumford, and has also shared a food service director with RSU 10 for many years.
“The only thing that would be new for us in this would be the substitute training,” he said, noting that all school districts in the region are finding it difficult to find and train a sufficient number of qualified substitute teachers and could benefit from regionalization in this area.
Murphy said one concern about regional service centers is that once formed it may be difficult for districts to withdraw from them.
“As the law stands right now, you would have to show proof that (leaving the agreement) would save not only you money, but also all of the other partners in that regional service center,” he said.
Newry Director David Bartlett asked how long a contract the district would be entering.
“Right now, it’s not really defined,” Murphy said.
He said districts would most likely need to form an interlocal agreement, and should be able to define the length of time it would last.
“I think that legally that might be the way to ensure that there is an end to the relationship, and then maybe it gets renewed. That’s one of the things we still have to work out,” he said.
Woodstock Director Marcel Polak said he was willing to vote to submit the initial application, but would not want to go further until more details are resolved.
The board voted unanimously to authorize submitting the preliminary application to the Maine Department of Education.