Jeremy Ray, school superintendent in Biddeford and Dayton and executive director of the Southern Maine Administrative Collaborative, has been selected by the Saco School Board to head the district’s public schools on an interim basis through the end of this school year, June 30. Courtesy Photo

SACO — Saco School Board members tasked with choosing a short-term interim school superintendent looked across the Saco River and found the person — and the team — they were looking for, 1.9 miles away.

Jeremy Ray, the longtime superintendent at Biddeford Schools and the executive director of the Southern Maine Administrative Collaborative will lead the Saco district through the end of the school year, while continuing in his role as superintendent in Biddeford and Dayton.

“When we are strong as a region, we’re stronger than we are individually,” Ray said.

Making sure Saco students are back in school five days a week in September is a top priority, he told the Saco School Board in a meeting Tuesday, April 13, following his appointment.

“I’m committed to a return to five days in the fall,” said Ray. “I very much believe kids, families and teachers are struggling right now. This has been no less than a difficult 12 months.”

He said the months ahead wouldn’t be easy.

“(It will) require a lot of research, study, listening and working together knowing the goal is returning our kids to five days,” said Ray.

Saco’s public schools educate children through grade eight. The district pays tuition to the private Thornton Academy for the education of the community’s high school students.

A Saco resident, Ray has two children in the Saco school system, one in fifth grade and another in grade one, he told the School Board.

SMAC — and specifically Ray, who has been superintendent in Biddeford for nine years and Dayton for seven — was chosen from a field of four candidates interviewed by an ad hoc committee of the Saco School Board. Biddeford Assistant Superintendent Christopher Indorf and Biddeford Instruction and Innovation Director Mandy Cyr, both certified superintendents, are also part of SMAC and will help in Saco.

The vote to engage Ray and SMAC was 5 to 1, with School Board member Art Tardif dissenting, because, he said, he didn’t have enough information prior to the vote, which came before Ray’s presentation to the board.

The Saco School Board’s vote allows Chair Kevin LaFortune to execute and deliver an agreement with SMAC and Ray, for emergency superintendent services from April 14 to June 30, at a cost not to exceed $40,000, on terms the chair deems advisable.

The need for an interim comes as Superintendent Dominic DePatsy, who came to the district six years ago, departs from the job 2 1/2 months earlier than he had originally planned. DePatsy in November told the School Board he planned to resign effective June 30. He said a more recent decision to leave no later than April 20 was a mutual agreement between him and the board.

The Saco School Board has also discussed hiring a longer, one-year interim to begin July 1 or soon after, and was to begin that process once the short-term interim position was filled.

Ray heads the Southern Maine Administrative Collaborative, an entity formed in 2017 to provide staffing services to partner school districts like Acton, Madawaska and Mount Blue Regional School District, along with Biddeford and Dayton school districts and agencies that provide child development services.

“By expanding beyond the traditional district-level framework, we are able to take a collaborative, state-wide approach to education in Maine, aligning resources with needs, wherever those needs may be,” SMAC’s mission states, in part.

Ray told the Saco School Board that work was to start on Wednesday, April 14 to form a pathway in the next 30 to 40 days for  a plan for a full five-day week in September. He said the team will review reports and look at the availability of space, and that he plans to study expenditures and examine budgets and federal funds to see how they can be used to help open schools in the fall.

“We’ll make ourselves available to staff and the community to answer any questions about re-opening before a final recommendation to the School Board,” he said on Tuesday. He said he hopes to put a sketch plan in place so when students leave school for the summer, everyone will have an idea of what the fall plan will look like.

Ray penned a letter to Biddeford and Dayton families, saying in part, “I will continue to be your superintendent. … the partnership with Saco is similar to Dayton and Biddeford’s — shared services to reduce administrative costs and allow our communities to invest in students, facilities, and be responsive to the needs of taxpayers.”

“Like Dayton and Biddeford, Saco is entering this arrangement voluntarily and will be an independent school district with its own finances, governance board, liabilities, curriculum, etc.,” said Ray.

Addressing Saco families, he outlined the independence of the three districts, and Saco School Board’s primary objectives for the SMAC team, “to open schools fully and safely, manage and balance the budget, and to find operational efficiencies to make sure the school department slashes overhead, invests in students, and is responsive to taxpayers.”

He thanked the Saco School Board for its affirmative vote.

“I look forward to working with you the next 2 1/2 months and see where our future goes,” Ray concluded.

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