Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin calls new state education policies “a perfect storm” that she fears will raise property taxes.
Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster calls the policies “a recipe for disaster.”
A new law takes away state money for education – $46 per student next year, $92 the year after that – and returns some money if districts create “regional service centers” to streamline student services.
But creating regional centers would mean developing a new layer of bureaucracy, hiring a director and getting approval for consolidated services from the state and local voters.
All of that would mean it wouldn’t save money, the superintendents said.
Grondin said she’ll be meeting with other superintendents and local state lawmakers to learn more.
“There’s no option on this,” she said. If Auburn doesn’t join an RSC, its schools will lose $165,000 next year, and $223,000 the following year.
In Lewiston, the loss could be $700,000 in 2019-20, Webster said.
“They’re saying if you want system administrators, you need to pay for it,” Grondin said. “It’s ironic that these regional service centers create another layer of administration. We’re paying someone to oversee the regional center. It’s moving the shells.”
Another policy change would shift treatment of children ages 3 to 5 from the state’s Child Development Services to local school districts.
Child Development Services is underbudgeted and having trouble hiring staff. If schools are put in charge of providing services to children ages 3 to 5, “where’s that money going to come from?” Grondin asked.
Auburn enrolled 60 kindergartners who received services from CDS. “If this legislation goes through it would have a huge impact on our special education costs,” Grondin said.
State Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, said the two policies “are in complete contrast with one another.” The state is saying there needs to be more consolidation on school districts’ shared services, but then the state’s Child Development Services needs to become localized. The two concepts don’t jibe.”
He’ll wait to hear the administration’s case on why the current CDS system isn’t working.
Rep. Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn, said initially he’s not in favor of public schools taking over state CDS services for children ages 3 to 5. He’s not in favor of the state providing services, either.
“At what point do the parents take responsibility for their kids?” Bickford said. “I don’t want to see 3-year-olds in school.”
He does favor the new law to have districts consolidate student programs.
“It absolutely is the right idea,” Bickford said. His understanding is that “it goes back to whole merger idea. Both school departments can work together. Both administrations can combine themselves. They haven’t done that yet. They’re too afraid of having less administrative people. That’s a concern.”
Libby said the language isn’t matching what he was told when he voted.
When the state budget was passed July 4, which ended a state shutdown, Libby was told the collaboration Lewiston and Auburn schools are already doing, such as sharing the same adult education director, would be recognized.
Reading the statute on Tuesday, “I have a hard time seeing how L-A could seek an exemption,” Libby said. “It seems like this creates a new layer of bureaucracy with a director and a chief financial officer.”
Districts would have to hire more administrators to oversee consolidated services. “That does not make sense to me,” he said. “It’s very troubling.”
Auburn School Superintendent Katy Grondin and School Committee Chairman Tom Kendall talk about the need to support the proposed school budget.
Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin