Using the “dance partner” analogy for school consolidation really doesn’t work, if enough partners decide to dance alone. With the state’s deadline for notices of intent looming this week, many local districts are deciding a solo performance is better than a shotgun duet.

Auburn is going alone. So are SAD 17 and Lewiston. These larger districts either rejected, or were rejected, by prospective consolidation partners. In Auburn and Oxford Hills’ cases, the fiscal savings from various scenarios were negative enough to cease talks with other districts.

Many districts are still at the drawing board. Others simply bucked expected trends, like SAD 58 in Phillips, a “high performing” district and therefore exempt from the process, which still decided to join with SAD 9 in Kingfield and Coplin Plantation to create a new regional school unit.

Seventy-three districts have filed notices with the state, which leaves about fourfold that number yet to file (Maine has 290 districts). The deadline is Friday. This is an auspicious beginning to a complicated process, unsuited to a mad-dash approach, but one many districts may try to pull off this week.

Once filed, however, school officials must pay attention to the start of the school year, which puts the pressure of evaluating consolidation proposals, or demurrals, to the Maine Department of Education, which has spent the entirety of 2007 pushing the consolidation proposal into reality.

In other words, the proponent for consolidation now becomes its propulsion after Aug. 31. The department must be up to this Herculean task, while balancing its agenda for consolidation, which the local control communities have been promised through the legislative process.

Reject too many plans, and the department runs the risk of appearing autocratic and reneging on local control agreements. But act conversely, and accept plans on their face value, and the department could dilute the process and let the maximum savings from consolidation evaporate.

It’s a fine line, and there’s nothing easy about the job ahead. To continue the tired dance analogy, after Aug. 31, the lights are off, the music is over, and the people have gone home.

Now it’s time to clean up after them.


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