SAD 1 eyes alternative plan to consolidation

17 years ago

 PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Rather than consolidate with surrounding school systems, SAD 1 directors voted last Wednesday night to file a notice of intent with the Department of Education to put together an alternative plan for a regional school unit (RSU) that would prove efficiencies and cost savings, without having to partner with other districts.     “We need to file a notice of intent by Aug. 31,” Superintendent Gehrig Johnson told directors at last week’s meeting. “We either have to form an RSU with one or more other units or file an alternative plan.
“As superintendent of SAD 1, I’ve been looking if we should merge with one or any [school systems],” he said. “When analyzing the data, I’m having a hard time coming up with reasons to merge. Our neighbors are looking more at each other and not us.”
Proposed by the Department of Education, RSU 3 would include the towns of Ashland, Blaine, Bridgewater, Castle Hill, Chapman, Easton, Garfield Plantation, Mapleton, Mars Hill, Masardis, Nashville Plantation, Oxbow Plantation, Perham, Portage Lake, Presque Isle, Wade, Washburn and Westfield.
Signed into law in June, the School Administrative Reorganization law sets forth state policy to ensure that schools be organized as units in order to provide equitable educational opportunities, rigorous academic programs, uniformity in delivering programs, a greater uniformity in tax rates, more efficient and effective use of limited resources, preservation of school choice, and maximum opportunity to deliver services in an efficient manner.
The state’s goal is to reduce the number of Maine’s school systems from 152 to 80 regional school units.
In addition to a lack of interest from neighboring school systems, SAD 1 officials are concerned that an impending tax shift would negatively impact local residents.
“By consolidating into one RSU,” said Charles Anderson, SAD 1’s business administrator, “people whose current mill rates are low would end up helping those whose mill rates are higher. For SAD 1 to merge with any local school district – any combination – there would be tax shifting.
“SAD 1 and SAD 32 (Ashland) have relatively low mil rates, but forming an RSU would cost SAD 1 substantial dollars,” he said. “You either help or get help, and from a tax standpoint, that’s not going to be too positive.”
Johnson said the process of filing an alternative plan is much simpler than merging with other schools.
“While we would still have to prove efficiencies and cost savings,” he said, “we wouldn’t have to form a regionalization planning committee and have a referendum vote.”
Following the Aug. 31 deadline, Education Commissioner Susan A. Gendron must review and either accept or deny the district’s initial notice of intent. School officials will then have until Dec. 1 to create either a reorganization or alternative plan.
Johnson said he is optimistic that since SAD 1 has “close to 2,500 students,” the Department of Education will allow the district to file the alternative plan, which would subsequently keep the SAD 1 board of directors intact.