DIXFIELD – The door may still be open for SAD 39 in Buckfield to merge with SAD 21, officials at Tuesday night’s directors’ meeting said.

SAD 21 Superintendent Tom Ward said anything is possible between now and 2009, when the state requires school districts to be consolidated. One option is tossing out the law, he said, but regardless of what happens his district and SAD 43 in Rumford, SAD 44 in Bethel and Union 37 in Rangeley must go through the consolidation process.

“If we can’t make cost sharing work, we stop and discuss that with the commissioner. If we do what we’re supposed to, there will be some flexibility,” Ward said.

The greatest issue facing SAD 21 is the unequal cost sharing assessment that would happen under the existing state funding formula. SAD 21’s regionalization partners would be required to pay a substantial increase in school taxes if SAD 21 consolidates with them.

SAD 39, based in Buckfield, has a similar problem, resulting in no district wanting to regionalize with them.

The possibility that some districts would pay what they consider an unfair share of school costs, along with other districts that want to remain on their own, has prompted the circulation of a petition to repeal the school consolidation law.

Board member Cindy Bissell of Canton said 55,000 signatures must be gathered by the end of January so the question could be placed on the November 2008 statewide referendum ballot.

Also related to the potential consolidation plan is the purchase of a new school bus, the beginning of negotiations with the Cancardix Education Association that represents the 25 or so educational technicians and secretaries, and a maintenance agreement with the town of Dixfield for district use of Harlow Park and Marble Memorial Park.

The district was given a 90-day notice of intent by the bargaining unit to begin negotiations. The three-year contract expired Aug. 31. Ward said his district must learn when similar contracts expire with SAD 21’s potential consolidation partners before going ahead.

The majority of the board voted to purchase a new 84-passenger school bus for $89,414 and paid for with a three-year loan at just under 4 percent interest. However, Ward said the planned purchase of another bus next year may be subject to scrutiny because of the consolidation process. According to state law, all properties in partnering districts must be inventoried.

And regarding Harlow and Marble Memorial parks, the board approved a maintenance agreement with Dixfield set to expire on July 1, 2009, which is the date all partnering districts must be reorganized and functioning as a single unit. The parks are used by the school district for its sports’ programs.

SAD 21 and its potential partners must submit a tentative consolidation plan to the state Department of Education by Dec. 1. A final plan, with details governing administration, a consolidated school board, shared services, and other items must be submitted in March 2008.

Residents of the four districts will decide on whether to approve the plan at a June 2008 referendum.

The first joint meeting of representatives from the four districts met last week. Several subcommittees were formed to work on specific topics prior to the next full Regionalization Planning Committee meeting set for early December.

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