Tuesday, December 10, 2013
MADISON — Administrators and members of the local school board are renewing talk about collaborating with other school districts to share administrative and other services.
In the past, voters twice rejected proposals to join districts based in Anson, Bingham and Pittsfield. However, Superintendent Todd LeRoy said, a newly formed alternative organizational structure exploratory committee is interested in maintaining the district's identity while sharing some costs with others rather than merging districts.
The recent loss of two communities from the Madison-based School Administrative District 59 in combination with increased budget costs, is part of the reason the committee was formed, LeRoy said.
"We are all small districts. We could band together and save a few dollars," he said.
LeRoy said the Madison district is interested in collaborating with Anson-based School Administrative District 74, Bingham-based School Administrative District 13 and Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54 and plans to send letters to those districts this week.
SAD 59's board of directors already has approved forming an AOS exploratory committee, which is made up of LeRoy and board members Bruce Thebarge and Jeff Wright.
The committee would look into ways for the districts to share services and classes and ways to collaborate on other things, LeRoy said.
"As we go along, we will probably include some citizens, teachers and staff if we think it is really something we want to pursue. For now, it is just an idea we are looking into," he said.
According to the Department of Education, an AOS is a combination of two or more school administrative units that join together for the purpose of providing shared administrative and sometimes educational services. That often includes a superintendent and superintendent's office, special education administration, transportation administration, and the business functions of accounting, payroll and financial management.
Members maintain their own budgets and school boards and choose representatives from each school board to serve on an AOS school committee. One example is AOS 92, which is in Waterville and also includes Winslow and Vassalboro.
This is not the first time districts in the area have talked about collaborating, although LeRoy said the current plan differs from past efforts because districts maintain local control and identity under an AOS.
"When we've talked about consolidation in the past, it was a total consolidation. We still want to be the Bulldogs. That won't be lost," he said.
In the past, Madison voters rejected plans to combine regional school units with other districts, including Pittsfield-based School Administrative District 53 in June 2008 and SAD 74 and SAD 13 in January 2009. Those plans, which arose out of a state-mandated consolidation effort, included a merger of school boards and the possibility that some schools would close.
The 2009 proposal was passed by voters in SAD 74, which includes the communities of Anson, Embden, New Portland and Solon. Superintendent Ken Coville said residents in his district historically have been open to collaboration.
"That's not a promise we would want to join an AOS at this time, but it's worth exploring," Coville said. He said he plans to discuss the idea with the SAD 74 school board at its next meeting on July 10.
On Thursday, Madison residents passed a $10.08 million school budget. An exceptionally high increase in school budget costs this year and the recent departure of two communities, Athens and Brighton Plantation, from the Madison district are part of the reason for exploring other structures, LeRoy said.
"We need to reduce our costs to save money. We've had to make a lot of cuts that hurt," he said.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368