AUGUSTA – Three years after starting work on school district consolidation, Maine’s Department of Education has another administrative reorganization on its hands.

The 16 sites statewide that handle services for children with learning disabilities and developmental delays will consolidate into nine in the coming weeks.

Four site directors and three support staff will lose their jobs. Others will see their hours cut.

It’s part of a reorganization of Maine’s Child Development Services system, which coordinates services — including speech pathology, occupational therapy and others — for 5,200 children age 5 and younger who need special attention before they enter the public school system.

State education officials and CDS employees say they’ve met since the fall of 2009 to decide on a new structure for the network.

“If they were looking at the reorganization of school districts, and the budget deficit being as it was, they didn’t feel the CDS system could operate as it had without considering some further reorganization,” said Jaci Holmes, the Maine Department of Education’s federal liaison.

The network’s consolidation was written into the supplemental state budget that takes effect July 1. CDS State Director Debra Hannigan wrote in a letter to CDS employees in early May that the move could save $3 million.

“In essence, it’s similar to what we did with (school district) reorganization,” Holmes said. “The intent is to reduce the administration, not to change case managers that work with children and their families.”

But not everyone is convinced the CDS system can be reorganized and that administrative support jobs can be cut without affecting the services provided to children.

“The folks that have lost jobs handled a lot of the paperwork that allowed the direct service providers to spend more time with the children and out in the field,” said Krystyna Dzialo, the CDS field representative at the Maine State Employees Association. “The support is still going to be necessary, but now it’s going to be done by fewer folks.”

The consolidation of 16 regional sites into nine won’t, in most cases, affect where services are provided.

The CDS system map is drawn largely along county lines and uses contracts with private providers to deliver many of its services. The change is in where the case management is done, state school officials say.

“The effort was to look at data being key to how are we going to allocate the number of children being served?” David Stockford, the Department of Education’s special services team leader, told a legislative panel earlier this month.

The current 16 sites include offices that handle as many as 875 children and as few as 104, according to state education data. The nine-site structure will redistribute those cases so the heaviest case load is 856 and the lightest is 210.

And while seven sites will stop handling cases, only one location — a Belfast office — will close. Five — in Augusta, Damariscotta, Dover-Foxcroft, Ellsworth and Farmington — will remain open as satellite centers that provide services to children.

The Brunswick site will switch to a Topsham location.

“The families should not see any disruption,” Stockford said.