DIXFIELD – Peru resident Bob Dolloff wanted to know what would happen if Maine voters decided to overturn the state law mandating administrative partnerships among school districts.

SAD 21 Superintendent Tom Ward said the law wasn’t needed to consolidate services considering economic conditions.

“If people vote yes on Nov. 4 and we see the efficiencies and positive things, then whether a referendum votes down the law or not, we’ll stay together,” he said. New units are scheduled to begin on July 1, 2009, and the earliest voters could repeal the law would be November 2009.

Dolloff’s question, and others, were voiced at SAD 21’s public hearing Wednesday night on the proposed administrative merger of school districts here, in Buckfield, in Rumford and the town of Hanover. It was the next to the last hearing on the matter.

Tuesday night, about 50 people attended a similar public hearing and informational session at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School, said SAD 39 Superintendent Rick Colpitts. Last week, Hanover kicked off the hearings. And on Thursday, the final hearing before the November vote will be held at 6 p.m. at Mountain Valley High School.

Ward, along with Colpitts and SAD 43 Superintendent Jim Hodgkin had hoped that more than the 30 people who turned out would have attended Wednesday’s sessions. Some fear that many people will cast uninformed votes about the proposed formation of the Western Foothills school unit.

The hearing was taped by volunteers from the local access channel, so it will be aired many times before the election, and every household in the potential new regional school unit received an informational brochure last week describing possible savings and educational advantages.

Hodgkin, who in the past had been less than lukewarm about forming a three-district administrative school unit, said Wednesday night that it’s necessary, particularly in the economic climate that has reduced educational funding from the state.

“If not this, then what? If we stay smaller, we have no idea what will happen. We cut 12 positions in SAD 43 last year. This looks like the best direction. We lost programs. This is a crisis situation,” he said.

If voters from any of the three districts reject the plan, then each school board must decide what its next step will be.

Colpitts said neither his district nor SAD 21 can stand on their own because they have fewer than 1,200 students each.

“We have to do whatever we can to save money,” he said. “It’s a very bleak economic picture. This does offer hope and promise for the three districts.”

Ward said with 80 percent of the state budget taken up by education and social service funding, every governmental entity was in a crisis situation.

“The idea of regionalizing couldn’t have come at a better time. We will be able to save some programs, although I don’t think we’ll be able to maintain everything,” he said.

School districts have learned that the best they could expect from the state was the same amount of funding next year as this year.

The plan, as accepted by the state Department of Education, calls for consolidating central offices and the administrative positions that operate from them, such as superintendent, special education director, curriculum coordinator, building, grounds and transportation director, and food service director.

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