BIDDEFORD/DAYTON — Dayton has decided to partner with Biddeford for administrative school services, but continue sending students to Saco Middle School and Thornton Academy, also in Saco.

In November, residents in both Dayton and Saco voted to leave Regional School Unit 23, which includes the two municipalities and Old Orchard Beach.

Biddeford and Dayton officials announced “with excitement and enthusiasm,” in a joint press release late Friday, they had entered into a “collaborative partnership” for shared central office administration for two years beginning July 1, when the new Dayton municipal school board officially begins.

The Dayton school board voted to approve the agreement Thursday, and the Biddeford School Committee voted its approval Friday afternoon.

“We’re just sharing central leadership,” said Biddeford Superintendent of Schools Jeremy Ray in an interview after Friday’s vote.

Ray stressed that Dayton will continue its relationships with Saco Middle School and Thornton Academy, and students from Dayton will not be attending Biddeford schools.

Dayton students have for many years attended Saco Middle School and Thornton Academy for high school. Students in Dayton now have the option to attend middle and high school in Old Orchard Beach, and there have been discussions about the possibility of having some slots open for students who want to attend Thornton Academy Middle School.

In addition to sharing a school superintendent and assistant superintendent, said Ray, Biddeford and Dayton will share administrative services for such departments as special education, transportation, finance and data management. No additional personnel will be hired by the Biddeford School Department in order to take on administrative services for Dayton, he said.

In addition, he said, by working together, the two school departments “will see if we can find greater efficiencies” through joint purchasing and contracting.

The two communities will operate separate school departments with individual school boards, according to the statement.

“It will reduce costs for Dayton, and this will bring about $100,000 to Biddeford,” said Ray.

Prior to the formation of the RSU in 2009, Dayton and Saco had a long-standing partnership as a school union, sharing administrative costs, with Saco receiving 10 percent of Saco Middle School costs and 12 percent of certain central office costs from Dayton, according to a report by accounting firm Purdy Powers written for the Saco withdrawal committee.

Cost savings projected by a Purdy Powers report in the withdrawal of the RSU 23 factored in an agreement of shared administrative services between Saco and Dayton.

Newly appointed Superintendent of Schools for the Saco Municipal School Unit Michael Pulsifer said in an email that “his best guess” is that last week’s decision means a $125,000 loss in revenue for Saco.

“Dayton’s choice reminds us that the current educational landscape is dynamic,” said Eric Drown of local education research group CARE 23, in an email. “Decision-makers planning for the future should study the past, but not expect it to repeat.”

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or [email protected] Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 324 or [email protected]

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