AUBURN — The Auburn School Department is working with the Lewiston School Department to find ways to consolidate services, and the effort isn’t related to the upcoming Nov. 7 referendum on merging the two cities.

A new state law, passed when the budget was approved in July, is mandating that school districts form new “Regional Service Centers” to find ways to consolidate programs or services with other districts.

If they don’t, the school districts will lose state education funding, Superintendent Katy Grondin told the Auburn School Committee on Wednesday night. Auburn could lose $187,000 next year, and $383,000 the following year.

The new law mandates that districts hire executive directors of the RSCs, get state approval for any consolidation changes and win the approval of local voters in a referendum.

Auburn is talking to Lewiston about Lewiston joining Auburn’s regional day treatment program for students who need special services, Grondin said. When Auburn voters are asked to approve the school budget in June 2018, they’ll also be asked to approve Auburn’s RSC plan.

All of those steps will create a new layer of bureaucracy, Grondin said.

“Is this supposed to save money?” asked Auburn School Committee member Tammy Nielson.

Bonnie Adams asked what happens if voters approve a merger of Lewiston and Auburn on Nov. 7, which would merge the two school departments.

Grondin said credit would not be given for that consolidation; the law would require that the new Lewiston-Auburn district find another partner with which to consolidate.

School departments don’t get any credit for consolidation work already being done, or for being frugal with administration costs, Grondin said.

Lewiston-Auburn school districts are already below the state average for what’s spent on administration, she said, passing out a sheet showing cost comparisons. 

The state average of per-pupil spending for system administration is $402. Auburn spends $242 and Lewiston spends $234, Grondin said.

Team teachers for freshmen

In other business, committee members heard a report from Edward Little teachers and administrators about a new effort to ensure freshmen have a successful year “and don’t fall through the cracks,” said Principal Scott Annear.

Teams of teachers who teach different subjects — math, science, English and social studies — are teamed with the same freshmen. The teachers meet regularly to discuss any student concerns and what their classes are studying.

The new initiative is already helping, said science teacher Peter Marris.

During his teacher team meeting Wednesday morning, he shared worries about a couple of students, concerns that normally wouldn’t rise to the level of involving a principal.

“The fact that all four of us were feeling the same things and had the same concerns, that told us, ‘OK, we do have a real concern about something that should be addressed,'” he said.

Also, because he meets with other teachers he knows what the students are learning in their other classes. So when he assigns a research project, he knows the students have already learned about how to cite sources.

Those “are a couple of things I’m excited about,” Marris said.

After hearing other educators share how the effort is encouraging more freshmen to do well, committee member Heidi Lachapelle asked Annear if the effort would be spread to the sophomore class next year.

No, Annear said, explaining that the high school would need more teachers to do that. 

“If it works, come back and say you need more teachers, more money,” said committee member Bonnie Hayes.

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