January 13, 2013

Fayette forms committee to explore AOS 97 withdrawal

Alternative Organizational Structure 97, formed with Winthrop in 2010, has saved money, but there's no harm in looking at alternatives, supporters claim

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FAYETTE -- A committee yet to be named will explore the idea of leaving the alternative school district the town formed with Winthrop less than three years ago.

Why are so many schools withdrawing now?

According to the 2009 law that reorganized the state’s school districts, municipalities could put the process to withdraw in motion beginning Jan. 1, 2012.

To withdraw, 10 percent of the voters in the municipality who voted at the last gubernatorial election must sign a petition calling for the withdrawal.

The municipality must then have a public hearing and finally, the withdrawal must be approved by secret ballot by the majority of the voters at a special town meeting before it can be brought to the district.

The Fayette School Committee has agreed to form an exploratory committee consisting of two school board members, two select board members and other interested community members to investigate withdrawing from Alternative Organizational Structure 97.

Dick Darling, chairman of the school committee, said he's hoping that committee, which will look at all the issues and costs, will be able to start work by early February. Eventually, it will report back with a recommendation to the school committee, but Darling said no action on any withdrawal would take place this fiscal year.

"I'm definitely in favor of looking into the possibility," said Fayette School Commitee member Jennifer Bero. "We need to explore all options."

Bero said she was asked by parents and residents about the possibility of withdrawing from the district and that one parent -- later identified as budget committee member Joel Swimm -- requested that it be put on the school board agenda for discussion on Thursday.

In May 2010, Fayette residents voted 153-6 and Winthrop residents voted 515-12 to form the combined school unit, which resulted in a district with about 1,000 students.

Darling said that while the vote appears to indicate overwhelming support for the joint venture, the towns were faced with the possibility of financial penalties if they did not consolidate.

"That was at least part of the impetus for what might seem to be a lopsided vote," he said.

Fayette has a school committee, as does Winthrop, and both committees send representatives to an board that governs the consolidated district.

"Our inter-local agreement between Fayette and Winthrop outlines the withdrawal process," Darling said. "When we went into it, we agreed to stay for three years and take a good hard look at what was going on."

Darling said he favors remaining in the consolidated district as it stands.

"It saved us money and some things happened very positively for Fayette for being part of AOS. The AOS budget has decreased every year since its inception," he said. "It started out at more than $400,000; this year's budget is $380,000."

Fayette's share is 15 percent of that amount.

"It's better to spend money on educating students than on administration," Darling said. "That's my personal opinion and I hope that's the opinion of all of my school board."

The same inter-local agreement between the towns says withdrawal can take place after a vote of the municipality that wants to withdraw, and that has to take place at least 60 days prior to the end of the fiscal year.

Joe Young, chairman of the Fayette selectmen, who was also at the school committee meeting, said, "The community is just interested in taking another look at the AOS relationship and seeing if it's worth being a part of that, or could we do our job better if we do it on our own?"

Betty Adams -- 621-5631

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