The nearly 20,000 residents of what may become the Western Foothills School District will have three chances next week to learn the details of the proposed administrative merger of SAD 21, SAD 39 and SAD 43.

More than a dozen residents of Hanover, an unaffiliated town that would also become part of the Western Foothills School District, had the first chance to learn about the proposed merger Wednesday night when SAD 43 Superintendent Jim Hodgkin, who is also the agent for Hanover, and SAD 21 Superintendent Tom Ward made a detailed presentation on what such a large district would look like.

According to studies, the most efficient and educationally sound district would have an enrollment of just more than 3,000 students. If the three neighboring districts join forces, that number would be about about 3,100.

“The financial impact for each town would be about the same. We won’t be getting more money from the state. But with a RSU, we could be more efficient,” Hodgkin said.

Ward said with the state expecting a shortfall, money for school districts could be seriously restricted.

“We were flat-funded this year and lost 14 positions. The timing is right for forming an RSU. We’ll find the efficiencies once we enlarge,” he said.

The cost-cutting measures, if the three districts and Hanover combine, include:

• a reduction in superintendents from 2.4 to one (SAD 39 employs a .4 time superintendent, Rick Colpitts); addition of an assistant superintendent;

• one central office, to be sited in Dixfield, down from three;

• one special education director, one director of curriculum, one business manager, one director of food services; one director of transportation and maintenance. These positions would be reduced from two or three.

• one bus garage and maintenance crew; streamlining of bus routes; the need for fewer buses; and a doubling-up of co-curricular student transportation.

On the cost increase side, all contracts must be renegotiated by 2010, and that could mean higher salaries for some positions.

But cost savings aren’t the primary reason for merging.

“There should be a greater equity of programming. Kids should have the same opportunities. This will give us a better chance,” Hodgkin said.

Colpitts, who was unable to attend Wednesday’s hearing, said earlier in the day that a district the size of SAD 39, at 600 students, cannot stand on its own under state law. His district had reached out to SAD 17, SAD 52 and Union 29, but for one reason or another, a partnership could not work.

SAD 21, SAD 43 and SAD 39 had also looked west toward SAD 44 in Bethel, but cost sharing inequities canceled out that potential partnership.

“I feel this is a good match for SAD 39. There will be greater opportunities for student programs, and we’ll continue to have a small school feel while being a part of a larger district,” Colpitts said.

If voters in all three districts don’t agree to an administrative partnership, SAD 43 would be penalized $302,583; SAD 21, $160,108; SAD 39, $112,914; and Hanover, $7,427. And, each must continue to seek one or more partners.

Voters will cast their ballots on the matter at the Nov. 4 elections.

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