MECHANIC FALLS – Union 29 Superintendent Dennis Duquette told the School Committee on Tuesday that he and SAD 15 Superintendent Vicki Burns this week are writing the first draft of a plan to consolidate schools in Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland and Gray-New Gloucester.

Duquette said the plan, which is due to the state Department of Education in Augusta by Dec. 1, will not be complete.

The 30-member, five-town consolidation planning committee and its four subcommittees, in the more than a dozen meetings held since Oct. 2, have only begun to identify issues that consolidation poses.

“The report will tell them where we stand,” said Duquette, noting that the Union 29/Gray-New Gloucester experience is being repeated across the state, with more than 90 percent of Maine school superintendents reporting that they will be submitting incomplete plans.

“The $1.2 million cost shift to Gray-New Gloucester in a merger with us has to be resolved. As (SAD 15 school board member) Alan Rich of New Gloucester pointed out, the $1.2 million has to be erased before they will want to merge. It’s a big financial impairment to voter acceptance,” Duquette said.

Consolidation is expected to save money in some areas: transportation, maintenance, technology, cooperative purchasing, and in the merger of Union 29 and SAD 15 superintendent offices. A combined office would serve about 3,800 students, about double what either office now serves. But, Duquette noted, while the new office would employ more than either office currently does, the student-to-administrator ratio would drop considerably.

The biggest problem unearthed by the finance committee is what happens when single contracts are drawn up to cover teachers and support service personnel in all five towns.

Consensus is, Duquette pointed out, that new contracts would tend to rise to the highest contract in both wages and benefits.

“Both Mechanic Falls and Minot run very lean budgets. Salaries for staff are lower than surrounding school districts. Consolidation would force those two towns to pay approximately $600,000 more per year,” Duquette said.

The push for consolidation has gotten people thinking, he said.

“One thing that has come out of these meetings with Gray-New Gloucester is seeing how they do things. We are inefficient as a union. We could save so much as a three town RSU,” Duquette said.

He noted that he will be pushing for some of these efficiencies in budget deliberations for the fiscal year beginning in July, no matter what might happen to plans to merge with Gray-New Gloucester.

The draft plan will be taken to the consolidation planning committee next Monday. The Union 29 School Committee will consider the plan intended for Dec. 1 submission when it meets Tuesday, Nov. 27, and the Gray-New Gloucester committee will take up the plan Wednesday, Nov. 28.

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