OXFORD – The SAD 17 Board of Directors unanimously voted Monday night to submit an alternate plan to the Department of Education by the Dec. 1 deadline, but did so with a few harsh words about what the new school consolidation law means down the road for districts.

Director John Palmer of Oxford expressed exasperation when told about the change in the school accounting methods that could increase SAD 17’s accounts from 1,700 to about 6,000 under the new law.

The vote was not to approve or disapprove the plan, it was simply to allow the submission by Superintendent Mark Eastman to meet the mandate of the school consolidation law. In requesting approval for the submission, Eastman told the board that they will ask to stand alone, rather than merge with another school district, because of three significant barriers.

Those are:

• a nearly $1 million increase in costs to the district if it were to merge with another district;

• the work to try to merge with SAD 39 in Buckfield, as requested by DOE Commissioner Susan Gendron, could not be done by Dec. 1; and

• the financial penalty was too significant if voters disapproved a merger request.

By filing an alternative plan, Eastman said the district will have to prove that it will reduce expenditures for system administration, transportation, special education and facilities and maintenance in a way that does not adversely affect instruction programs and continue to expand collaboratives with SAD 39 along with other criteria.

In looking down the road, Eastman warned directors that there are also some significant pitfalls they may encounter as the law is put into place. Subsidy dollars may be lost if the minimum tax rates are not raised as required by Educational Programs and Services. Secondly, he said, if SAD 39 merges with another district that may eliminate savings now being seen through various collaborations.

Eastman said a survey of Maine superintendents showed that 95 percent feel there will be no cost savings under the new law, but rather more costs to their districts.

“The voters are not going to be enthusiastic,” Eastman said.

Eastman himself expressed disgust at some of the problems he sees coming for the district particularly in the area of school financing.

“It’s incredible. It’s out of control,” he said of the changes being made by the Maine educational accounting system that will, in part, increase the number of accounts SAD 17 deals with to as many as 6,000.

The next step in the process is to get approval from the commissioner for the alternative plan. If the approval is garnered in December, SAD 17 towns will have to hold a referendum on the plan on or before Jan. 15, 2008.


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