AUGUSTA (AP) – Hoping to remove barriers before school units as they work on final consolidation plans, the Baldacci administration is submitting legislation to address three of their major concerns over the law that was enacted earlier this year.

The law is supposed to save $36.5 million in its first year alone by making school districts less top-heavy and more efficient. But some districts find that joining forces with other districts will have unintended consequences and cost more.

Final organization plans are due by Saturday, and by Jan. 15, cities and towns may vote on whether to approve mergers. Many units have moved forward in their discussions with potential partners based on the expectation that state officials would seek to modify the law, said Jim Rier, Director of Finance and Operations for the Education Department.

The districts asked for more flexibility in moving toward consolidation, “and this gives it to them,” Rier said.

It would also allow local cost-sharing agreements among units forming regional school units in order to reduce the impact of cost shifts. Allowing local cost-sharing agreements could benefit almost every reorganization effort, but in many cases the cost-shifting is minimal, the department says.

The bill would remove a requirement that all units joining a regional unit must raise at least 2 mills toward the cost of essential programs and services. About two dozen school units would benefit from removal of the 2 mill minimum requirement, the department said.

Gov. John Baldacci said the changes in the bill, which has bipartisan sponsorship, should remove unintended barriers to consolidation.

“The intent of the law is to encourage consolidation, not discourage it,” Baldacci said.

But the law remains unpopular in some areas and an initiative campaign to repeal it continues.

The leader of the campaign, Lawrence “Skip” Greenlaw Jr., said he has no faith in the Legislature or Education Department to correct what he considers a deeply flawed law.

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