AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron says it could be cheaper for some school districts to defy the state’s consolidation law and that parts of the state law may need to be reworked to coax all districts to comply.

One of the problems is a requirement that merged districts raise property taxes at least $2 per $1,000 valuation to pay for their schools, possibly making it cheaper for a few small school districts to pay penalties for failing to merge, Gendron said.

Also, some districts with high property values could see a reduction in special-education funding if they merge, she added.

Gendron mentioned the two potential problems this week in a 45-minute briefing to the Appropriations Committee. But her spokesman, David Connerty-Marin, says there could be more problems with the law than just the two cited by Gendron.

Overall, about 80 percent of the state’s 290 school districts have submitted merger plans. By Dec. 1, districts have to present final organization plans, and cities and towns would vote on whether to approve mergers in January.

“There are a few places where we are inclined to agree that there may be a potential financial barrier,” Connerty-Marin said.

Tim Wheaton, a school board member in Yarmouth, said he knows of at least 15 districts that face tax and cost increases if they merge, for a number of reasons, including equalizing pay scales and other expenses.

One school district looking at a shift in property taxes is School Administrative District 39, which includes Buckfield, Hartford and Sumner.

If the district merged with nearby SAD 17, the Oxford Hills School District, as the state is suggesting, a substantial cost shift would cut property taxes in what is now SAD 39 and raise them in what is now SAD 17.

“It’s really hard to sell a merger to a community that is going to see its taxes rise substantially,” Colpitts said. “I know we’re not the only district struggling with that disparity.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Daily Headlines

  • Sign up and get the top stories to begin the day delivered to your inbox at 6 a.m.