by George Crawford
Question 3 on Maine’s ballot this year has to deal with the repeal of Maine’s 2007 school administrative consolidation law. As a teacher, I am working to repeal the law. I hope that other teachers and school staff members vote and will encourage others vote to overturn the law.
School administrative consolidation was included in Governor Baldacci’s 2008-2010 budget as an “emergency measure” and originally was going to consolidate Maine’s school districts from 290 school districts to 26. After debate in the Legislature, the law was passed in June 0f 2007 which set a goal of 80 school districts, all to be RSUs or Regional School Units with a minimum size of 2,500 students or 1,200 if you met certain criteria such as being geographically isolated.
$36.5 million dollars was removed from the 2008-2010 Maine state budget for education subsidies to schools. This included reduced amounts for system administration, facilities and maintenance, and also transportation.
RSU have a SAD governance model and weighted votes on a large school board based on population. The law was passed that if you do not vote for consolidation for your school district to join an RSU, then your district penalty in its subsidy from the state.
In 2008, another school administrative structure called an AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) was made an option where school districts could consolidate and not form an RSU. This governance structure gave another path to consolidation.
The law was passed and after “guidance” from the Maine Department of Education, Regional Planning Committees were formed to create the new school districts under the law. After “good faith” efforts, the planning committees submitted their best efforts to the state for approval and then to local voters. Some plans were approved and many others were voted down.
Maine went from having 290 school districts down to 217 in June of 2009. The figures of 290 districts are also misleading. Towns in School Unions where each town runs its own schools and share a central office and Superintendent are each considered a separate school district. School unions share administration and Superintendents.
The consolidation law has many undemocratic aspects in it. The first one being when it was passed it was incorporated into the budget, as an “emergency measure” State budgets should not be used for huge policy changes such as this. The law was also passed that if your current district didn’t vote for consolidation then your district would face a subsidy cut. This point was often stressed at consolidation informational meetings for citizens by the state facilitators who helped the Regional Planning Committees.
The consolidation law causes many problems. Districts who voted not to consolidate were supposed to face penalties if they didn’t vote to consolidate. Districts that did consolidate often found costs shifted from one town to another. School subsidies under the law are not given to each town in a new RSU or AOS but were given to the district as a whole. It is divided up by a cost sharing formula developed by the new district. After consolidation, property taxes in Pownal have risen 25%, Alna 33% and 19% in Durham. These small towns also have less say in their schools due to the large weighted vote on the school board.
The law also takes away a towns ability to run their schools. Many towns would go directly form running their schools and sharing a central office in a School Union to having little or no say on a a large school board. Otis in Hancock County shares a school with Mariaville. Otis voted not to join RSU 4 which stretches from Ellsworth east to Steuben. They would have 2.6% of the votes on the RSU school board and would have little say about their school. Mariaville voted to join RSU 4 and now Otis must pay RSU 4 tuition to send their students to school in Mariaville. They were formerly part of a school union and ran their own school with Mariaville.
Other problems with the law include lack of local control, centralization moving away control of schools to whom they are suppose to serve, and the fact that onc e in an RSU or AOS, you are not allowed to leave. There is no provision in the current law to leave an RSU or an AOS .
Estimated savings on administration are estimated to be $1.6 million once all the savings is added up from passed consolidated plans submitted to the Department of Education.
If consolidation is repealed, then current RSUs can become SADs and AOS can be changed to School Unions. Savings can be found through cooperation between districts. The Maine Legislature can also come up with a consolidation bill that relies on incentives rather than penalties and coercion.
I ask that you vote Yes on Question 3 and repeal school consolidation. Please spread the word to your colleagues and friends. Please also check out the resources below for more points of view on consolidation.
Pro Consolidation Website