Tuesday’s ballot asks Lewiston voters if they want city schools to join a regional service center.

LEWISTON — Lewiston voters will be asked Tuesday if they want city schools to join a regional service center to improve efficiency and protect state education money.

In his recent monthly report, Superintendent Bill Webster explained that a regional service center is a group of public school districts joining forces to find ways to save money by working together to be more efficient and save money.

As mandated in a state law passed in 2017, public schools must join a regional service center or lose state money for education.

In Lewiston’s case, if voters do not approve the ballot question, the state would punish Lewiston by not giving  Lewiston $192,576 in state subsidy this year. The loss would be greater the following year.

If voters say yes, Lewiston schools would be a founding member of the “Great Falls Regional Service Center,” along with school districts in Auburn, Turner and Poland. Auburn voters will make the same decision Tuesday.

The four districts plan to explore four ways to consolidate and save, including joint purchasing for nutrition programs and substitute teacher software; leadership-development programs for principals; weather service to help when to close schools due to winter snow storms; and formalizing Lewiston’s participation in Auburn’s Regional Educational Treatment Center (RETC), where Lewiston now has a contract for seven student slots.

In April, the School Committee rejected joining the regional service center out of concerns for how much control Lewiston would have over a regional board, and whether the regional group would create programs that could mean higher costs for Lewiston taxpayers.

After more discussion, the committee changed its position and voted May 7 in support of joining.

School Committee member Tina Hutchinson said she voted against joining when it first came up April 2. In the initial proposal, the regional service center would explore taking over the education of special needs children age 3 to 5, something the state’s Child Development Services is now responsible with doing.

Because CDS believes it is underfunded, there was a state proposal to have districts assume that task.

Hutchinson said she voted in April against Lewiston’s joining because she is opposed to Lewiston schools taking over the education of special needs children age 3 to 5 from the state.

“I’m a firm believer that we cannot start any new programs until we do what we do well,” Hutchinson said Wednesday.

Since then, she changed her position and supported joining after the proposal for teaching special needs children age 3 to 5 was taken off the table.

Hutchinson said she then explored what joining would mean for Lewiston.

“I spent hours of research, speaking with the Maine Department of Education,” she said.

She said she has learned “joining is an opportunity to improve what we do, and save money.”

In his monthly report, Webster wrote that joining will not cost Lewiston more money. The goal is to save money.

If voters approve joining, Hutchinson will represent Lewiston on the regional service center’s board of directors.

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