While the state Department of Education pushes plans to regionalize services, local educators are not sure what that will mean for school districts as they are now organized.

Several Maine school districts are pursuing efforts to pool resources and regionalize services such as transportation, special education and technological education through grants and selective pilot programs under the auspices of the education department.

State officials say the regional service centers model should maximize efficiencies and provide more opportunities for students. While local educators agree that collaboration makes sense, they are unsure exactly what those service centers will look like.

This model will be in the spotlight at a workshop sponsored by the Maine School Management Association and the law firm of Drummond Woodsum. The workshop, scheduled Friday at the Augusta Civic Center, will delve into new state law that authorizes the creation of “school management and leadership centers,” or regional service centers.

“The ultimate goal is to increase opportunities for students and find ways to be more efficient in the management of school districts,” said Mary Paine, director of special projects within the education department. “The end goal is not just savings.”

ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES

Some districts are considering dissolving their current organizational structure to form regional service centers that would receive state subsidies for administrative work. Among them is Waterville-based Alternative Organizational Structure 92. The districtwide board voted to study the feasibility of dissolving the AOS structure and creating three systems instead, most likely including a regional service center in Waterville.

Districts can remain intact and still be members of a regional service center, but no matter what, they will all lose a state allocation for system administration, or superintendents, within the next three years, according to Suzan Beaudoin, deputy commissioner of the Department of Education. That money is being phased out to go toward instruction instead, Beaudoin said.

Any other savings that result from regionalization are intended to go toward new opportunities for students, Paine said.

But if a district becomes a service center, it would get a different allocation for administrative costs, like the business office and legal costs. The state would also pay 55 percent of the salary of the center’s executive director, who could double as a superintendent, as well as the full costs of the accounting, payroll and student information systems.

Local school systems could keep or hire superintendents, but “the state won’t participate in that cost,” Paine said.

Other districts are applying to form what the state is calling “integrated, consolidated 9-16 education facility pilots,” with the preferred pilot combining three or more high schools and creating a new governing school board for a new regional high school partnered with a career and technical school, the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System. The department chose three out of seven original applicants statewide to continue on to the second phase of the application.

QUESTIONS RAISED

The details of what those projects will look like are being worked out now, according to Rachel Paling, director of communications for the Department of Education.

The department envisions nine to 12 regional service centers throughout the state, though Beaudoin said it will take a long time to get there.

The state is starting this venture now because the “circumstances are more favorable,” she said.

About one-third of superintendents in the state will reach retirement age over the next five years, and most districts are experiencing declining enrollments.

“It’s not all about efficiency” though, she said. It’s also to help the districts that are poor or rural that “just can’t do things alone, but together they can.”

“The mills closing has changed the dynamics in some of these areas,” Beaudoin said.

Eric Haley, AOS 92 superintendent, said he thinks the idea makes sense, but he’s still waiting for further information from the state.

“We’re kind of just groping in the dark about what these regional service centers are,” he said.

With the information he has now, Haley said it seems like the service centers would work like AOS 92, which consolidates much of its administrative work under Waterville schools.

“I’ve got one person doing accounts payable for three school systems,” he said. “I think we’ve demonstrated that we can do an efficient job with less people. This isn’t a new concept.”

The state has already awarded 10 grants for collaborative projects between schools and other agencies as it begins to roll out its campaign for regionalization, dubbed EMBRACE: Enabling Maine students to benefit from regional and coordinated approaches to education.

COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS

The Western Maine Educational Collaborative, a nonprofit organization representing 14 school systems, including Farmington-based Regional School Unit 9 and Winthrop Public Schools, is involved in one project that aims to create a professional development program for high school teachers throughout its districts.

The collaborative had prior success with a similar program called the Maine Mathematics Coaching Project, which focused on kindergarten through eighth grade. It hopes to use this grant opportunity to “scale it up” and provide similar support to teachers in high schools, according to Executive Director Kristie Littlefield.

For this project, educators from the district will work with the University of Maine at Farmington to become math coaches through either a math leadership certificate program or graduate-level courses paired with additional training and site visits. When their training is complete, these educators will be able to “coach” or mentor other teachers to improve math instruction and, ultimately, student outcomes.

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

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