School systems move forward with regional partnership

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LEWISTON — Despite their opposition to the idea, school superintendents are moving forward with a “regional service center” plan promoted by the state.

Lewiston, Auburn, Poland’s RSU 16 and Turner’s SAD 52 have submitted initial state paperwork to partner for substitute teacher services and special needs services for 3- to 5-year-olds. 

Lewiston, Auburn and Poland superintendents have all publicly said they have significant concerns about regional service centers as promoted by the state. RSU 16’s board voted in October not to pursue regionalization.  

But as Maine law stands now, school systems will lose state funding if they don’t partner.

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“We’re feeling like we’re being forced to do something,” said Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin. “They say ‘incentive;’ we say ‘penalties.'”

The push comes from a new Maine law that takes away state money for schools — $46 per student next year, $92 the year after that — and returns some funding only to school systems that create regional centers to streamline student services.

School leaders across the state have said they’re all for sharing services, but they don’t like having to put together a board and hire a director to do that service sharing, as required by the law. They don’t like the fact that regional service center employees won’t be overseen by the local school systems. They believe that those workers won’t be classified as public school employees, making them ineligible for the Maine Public Employees Retirement System and making recruitment difficult.

“There is issue upon issue upon issue,” said RSU 16 Superintendent Tina Meserve. “It feels uncomfortable to me because we don’t have the answers that we need from the state.”

They also believe the timing and number of public votes required under the law could confuse voters and cost school systems money. And they feel the law is too “one size fits all,” penalizing school systems that are already efficient alongside school systems that aren’t.   

While they’re unhappy with the law, local superintendents say they don’t want to lose funding.

RSU 16, which includes Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls, could lose $78,000 in state funding next year and $161,000 the year after. Lewiston’s superintendent estimated that his school system could lose $250,000 to $300,000 the first year and $500,000 to $600,000 the second.

Auburn school officials anticipate losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well.

“We don’t want to put Auburn at a disadvantage by not looking at the process,” Grondin said.

The school systems outlined their regionalization proposal and submitted it last month, in time to meet the law’s first deadline. They will have to submit a more detailed plan in April.

In the meantime, Grondin said she knows of at least two bills in the Legislature that propose changing the law.

“We’ll be watching the bills, as well,” she said.

ltice@sunjournal.com

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