School officials to hold merger talks

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Superintendents and school board chairmen from northern Oxford County will get together Aug. 9 in Rumford to discuss possible administrative mergers.

“We’ll talk about what makes sense,” SAD 43 Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said Friday. “Throughout the state, some will suffer, some will benefit in any configuration.”

Besides SAD 43, superintendents and board chairmen from SAD 21 in Dixfield, SAD 39 in Buckfield and SAD 44 in Bethel will also take part in the discussion.

This initial meeting is not open to the public, but the meetings of the Regional Planning Committee expected to emerge from this gathering will be.

“This is really our first opportunity to get together,” said SAD 21 Superintendent Tom Ward, although he, Hodgkin, and SAD 44 Superintendent David Murphy have been talking of ways to cooperate for several years.

Those three districts have also hired an educational consultant, Jake Clockedile, to pull together the financial numbers that will help show the best way for districts to reconfigure central office functions, Hodgkin said.

“After the Aug. 9 meeting, the Regional Planning Committee will be formed,” he said.

That committee will be made up of municipal selectmen, school board members and community members.

Hodgkin said a variety of possible configurations will likely be discussed at the initial meeting, such as combining SADs 21, 43 and 44, SADs 43 and 21, or SAD 43 and another district. Murphy said his district is looking at a variety of configurations that also include SAD 17 in, Union 37 in Rangeley, or with SAD 43.

“There could be other combinations as well,” he said.

The state has mandated that most districts have a minimum of 2,500 students for administrative purposes, unless they are granted an exception.

Hodgkin said the state has generally mandated that district partners be contiguous.

Ward said SAD 39 was invited to come to the table as well. At about 650 students, SAD 39 must find at least one school district to partner with. Superintendent Rick Colpitts could not be reached for comment. He is also the chairman of the SAD 21 board of directors.

All districts in the state must notify the Department of Education by Aug. 31 of the districts they are working with. And by Dec. 1, reports must be submitted outlining which district or districts they plan to partner with. Murphy said unaffiliated towns, such as Hanover, Upton and Gilead, must also submit such a plan.

On Jan. 15, residents of the towns involved in proposed administrative partnerships will vote on whether they agree to the Regional Planning Committee’s proposal.

Hodgkin, Murphy and Ward have been meeting on a regular basis for several years and have found a number of ways to cooperate that in turn has saved some money.

“This will be an interesting exercise to learn what the best possible connections would be,” Murphy said.

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