LEWISTON — The city will not join a regional service center with Auburn, Turner and Poland school districts, which means it could lose $200,000 in state aid this year, enough to fund four teaching positions.

The Lewiston School Committee voted 4-3 Monday night against joining the service center. The Maine Department of Education is pushing the centers as a way to regionalize services such as transportation, special education and technology education.

School committees in the other three municipalities have approved joining the service center.

Members of the Lewiston School Committee who voted against joining were  Luke Jensen, Tina Hutchinson, Renee Courtemanche and Megan Parks. Voting in favor were Monique Roy, Mark Cayer and Tanya Estabrook. Absent were Francis Gagnon and City Councilor Alicia Rae.

Jensen said a couple of things bothered him about joining. He said that if Lewiston wanted to withdraw, it would have to be approved by the Maine commissioner of education and the regional service center’s board of directors, which would be the four superintendents.

“The board of directors for the regional service center could also decide to assess some kind of fee or financial charge for districts without any elected official having a say in it,” Jensen said.

He added that committee members “weren’t involved in drafting the agreement. The first we heard about it was when we were asked to approve it.”

Asked about the loss of $200,000 this year, Jensen said he didn’t know whether Lewiston would actually lose the money. “Honestly, the state is still making some changes” to the law, he said. “To me, it’s not a guarantee we’re going to lose the funding.”

Parks said the regionalization proposal was “extremely convoluted,” and she saw several areas of concern in the proposal’s wording, she said in an email.

She was uncomfortable that the contract names Lewiston Public Schools as the administrator. “And then it goes on to say the administrator will be solely fiscally responsible for all aspects of the agreement,” Parks said.

Cayer said he favored passing it as long as Lewiston could pull from the group if necessary. Also, he said, the risk of not being able to save taxpayers money was too great.

Superintendent Bill Webster said Tuesday he was surprised by the School Committee’s rejection, that he recommended approval “to preserve state subsidy.”
Budget revisions will be discussed when the School Committee meets Wednesday night, he said.

Asked whether he would recommend eliminating four new teaching positions from the proposed budget, Webster said he would involve school principals before making any recommendation.

Under state law, Lewiston would lose $200,000 this year and $400,000 next year by not joining a regional center. “It could go up higher in the next year,” Webster said.

Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin and Poland Superintendent Tina Meserve said Tuesday that their districts will carry on without Lewiston.

Grondin has agreed to be executive director of the regional service center, a position Webster was to fill for one year. “We will put our best foot forward and see how this year goes,” Grondin said.

Meserve pointed out that state law only requires two districts to regionalize. She couldn’t speak for Turner Superintendent Kimberly Brandt, but “I feel comfortable continuing with Auburn.”

If Poland hadn’t joined, the district would have lost $46,000 in state money. “It matters,” Meserve said. “It’s a teaching position.”

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