OXFORD – SAD 17 Finance Committee members agreed Thursday night that new legislation may allow SADs 17 and 39 to expand cost-sharing efforts while meeting the requirements of the state’s school consolidation law.

The committee is expected to make a recommendation to the full SAD 17 board as early as June 2.

If approved by SADs 17 and 39 boards and voters in the districts’ towns, the move can be made without the $635,000 financial burden SAD 17 faced under the previous school consolidation mandate, said officials.

Earlier this year, SAD 17 directors asked that the district “stand alone” after a study showed a $635,000 financial burden to merge with SAD 39 and a significant financial penalty if voters disapproved a merger request.

“It’s about what’s best for the kids and what’s best for the bottom line,” SAD 17 Superintendent Mark Eastman told nearly two dozen school and municipal officials. The group met at the Oxford Hills administration office to discuss the merits of legislation approved last month to remove barriers to reorganizing school administrative units.

Under the law, a regional school unit may opt to form an alternative organizational structure in place of a standard regional school structure. According to information presented by SAD 39 Superintendent Rick Colpitts, the alternative organizational structure is a regional school unit that would still require communities to function as a single school system with a single budget. It would receive a single subsidy check and have a common core curriculum and procedures for standardized testing and assessment.

Additionally, the new unit would adopt consistent school policies, school calendars and collective bargaining agreements.

“It doesn’t quite allow a (school) union but it’s close,” explained SAD 17 Eastman earlier this week. “It’s much more flexible.”

While it requires consolidation of school administration, including superintendents, business, transportation and special education administrators, there is no timeline for issues such as negotiating mutual bargaining agreements. It allows the districts to design a plan and process and implement it.

“There’s lots of room for local adaptation,” said state Rep. Teresea Hayes, D-Buckfield.

Colpitts, who made the presentation on behalf of SAD 39, said there are several roadblocks to implementation including the fact that SAD 17 has applied to “stand alone,” and SAD 39 has a merger plan with SADs 21 (Dixfield/Peru area) and 43 (Rumford) awaiting approval.

Colpitts said the superintendents of both districts and their regional planning committees were aware this week of the upcoming discussions with SAD 17.

SAD 39 board member Judy Berg and others stressed that that school district would pay its “fair share” so that SAD 17 was not unfairly financially burdened by a merger, but she stressed the educational benefits is most important.

Colpitts said a decision must be made by June so that SAD 39 does not hold up the regional planning committee process by SADs 21 and 43.

Members of both boards agreed that conceptually they approve of the new legislation and want to move forward.

If both boards proceed, they will submit a letter of intent to the Department of Education committing to the planning process. The regional planning committees will then come up with a plan that must be approved by district voters.

“We have to have a plan that we can sell to our people,” said SAD 17 board member Don Gouin.


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