AUGUSTA (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci plans to unveil his plan to promote regional school districts when he gives his State of the State speech Tuesday night.

The governor wants to see groups of at least two existing school districts combine into single governing bodies. Newly combined districts would have to have at least 1,000 students.

Baldacci’s plan also encourages school districts to band together into “Regional Cooperatives” of five or more school districts that would provide regional services and programs.

In exchange, districts would see 7.5 percent to 10 percent increases in state aid, depending on their size.

A task force that began its work after Baldacci’s inauguration last year found that Maine’s high per-pupil costs, $900 more per student than the national average, stem in part from too much government.

The larger districts could also economize on expenses such as school supplies and transportation.

It’s unclear how much money the state and local governments could save by consolidating, and some experts say there may be no significant savings for years.

A legislator who co-chairs the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee said Baldacci should take a cautious approach that encourages school districts to work together first and unify later.

“The reaction from the local community may be quite strong against this if the governor tries to do too much too quickly,” said Rep. Glenn Cummings, D-Portland.

Baldacci said his proposal allows school districts to be cautious if they wish, but he believes the Legislature should give them an option to consolidate as soon as possible.

Maine has too many small school districts, said Baldacci, noting that eight districts have fewer than 250 students. He said their consolidation would not only save taxpayers money, but also give students access to a wider range of services and programs.

Baldacci’s proposal would be the most extensive effort to consolidate local government in Maine since the Sinclair Act in 1957, which established the state’s school administrative districts.

Other states that have recently enacted laws to encourage school districts to consolidate include Arkansas, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Oklahoma.

AP-ES-01-18-04 1230EST



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