OXFORD – Confusion at the state level over proposed school consolidation legislation will allow SAD 17 to continue to maintain its current cost savings collaborations with SAD 39, SAD 17 Superintendent Mark Eastman said.

Eastman told several dozen town officials from eight SAD 17 member towns at Wednesday’s budget hearing that the state’s school consolidation plan is in a “state of chaos.”

“We have basically stopped because there is no direction from Augusta,” said Eastman of going forward with consolidation plans due to what he said was the failure of the state Legislature to enact changes to improve the law.

Eastman said he believes it will be another year until the issues are ironed out, but he expects to see some “concrete direction” from the Legislature come this week.

Last fall, SAD 17 directors asked that the district “stand alone” after a careful study of mergers with other systems indicated a nearly $1 million cost increase would occur if they merged with another district such as SAD 39. Directors also believed that the financial penalty was too significant if voters disapproved a merger request.

The SAD 17 plan was one of 39 alternative plans submitted statewide and 92 in total. None of the alternative plans were rated as complete by Department of Education Commissioner Susan Gendron, and only one reorganization plan was considered complete. That plan, between Bath and Union 47, had been in the works long before the school consolidation law was passed, Eastman said.

Because the mandate required that SAD 39 merge with another district, questions arose as to whether SAD 17 could continue a number of cost-savings sharing they had been doing. They include sharing heating oil purchases, joint adult education, bus repairs and the technical school. This past year, both school districts agreed to “share” SAD 39 Superintendent Rick Colpitts for a one-year pilot program. Colpitts works the majority of his time in SAD 39 and the rest in Oxford Hills as assistant superintendent.

SAD 39 is investigating reorganization with SAD 43 in the Rumford area and SAD 21 in the Dixfield and Peru area. That plan has been rejected also.

With no direction, directors in both districts last month approved a two-year contract extension to Colpitts. The plan was the result of a SAD 17 ad hoc committee recommendation in 2003 to find ways to cooperate with SAD 39 to save money.

School officials have stressed, and Eastman confirmed, they intend to continue to seek out expanded cost-savings collaborations with SAD 39 as long as they can.

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