OXFORD – SAD 17 Superintendent Mark Eastman told directors Monday night that state approval of the district’s alternative plan for consolidation is still pending.

Eastman said he received a preliminary letter in e-mail from from Department of Education Commissioner Susan Gendron. “At this point, they are advising us that we need to give more information,” he said, and he needs to find out what that means.

The school consolidation law passed this year requires that the number of school systems in Maine be cut from 290 to 80 to save administrative costs. It forces systems with fewer than 2,500 students to merge.

SAD 17 has more than 2,500 students and therefore seeks to stay as is. The board also concluded from a study that a merger with another district would cost SAD 17 taxpayers nearly $1 million more.

In late November, it unanimously voted to allow Eastman to submit a plan, which would have SAD 17 remain as is, by the Dec. 15 deadline. Eastman had told the board the district would have to prove it will reduce spending for administration, transportation, special education, and facilities and maintenance without adversely affecting instruction programs. It would also have to continue to expand collaboratives with SAD 39 along with other criteria.

Eastman told directors Monday night that the e-mail came with references to a number of attachments that he has not received yet so it is too soon to determine what the Department of Education is looking for in terms of more information.

He said he should have that information available to the board at its next meeting in January.

If approval is received from the commissioner, voters in SAD 17 towns will have to hold a referendum on the plan. If the approval was received in December, which looks unlikely now, the referendum would have to take place prior to Jan. 15. If the approval comes after that, a referendum must be held by Nov. 4, 2008, at the latest.

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