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 for the 2021-22 school year. Courtesy Photo

SACO — The Saco School Board approved of how Jeremy Ray and Southern Maine Administrative Collaborative did their job for the short term — so they’ve agreed to hire them for a one-year interim slot.

And they’ve made strides on another collaboration, with an agreement that Saco’s Food Services director would step into that role in Biddeford and Dayton — their director had recently retired.

The administrative team, led by Ray, also includes Biddeford Assistant Superintendent Christopher Indorf and Biddeford Instruction and Innovation Director Mandy Cyr, also a certified superintendent.

SMAC currently provides services in Biddeford and Dayton, and some other Maine school districts.

The vote by the Saco School Board on June 16 to hire SMAC to fill the one-year superintendent’s slot was unanimous.

Ray and SMAC were hired in mid-April for the short-term position, through the end of the school year June 30, upon the early departure of Superintendent Dominic DePatsy, who had been superintendent for six years. DePatsy had originally planned to resign effective June 30, and has previously said his decision to leave in mid-April was a mutual agreement between him and the school board.

Saco School Board Chair Kevin LaFortune said the board had interviewed several candidates for the one-year interim spot and he and two other members of the Saco board had earlier met with some members of the Biddeford School Committee to talk about how the communities might collaborate.

Under the terms worked out, Saco will pay $150,000 plus expenses for office space and professional development for SMAC for the 2021 school year, ultimately resulting in $22,000 savings, LaFortune said.

A shared central office will be located in a mutually agreed upon location in Biddeford.

LaFortune told the board there would be a restructuring plan; the addition of an assistant superintendent within the central office would be determined and Saco would have to figure how to pay for that new position.

As well, he said there would be a discussion of operational benchmarks and how well the arrangement is working out for all the parties involved.

Ray said he intends to make the assistant superintendent position as cost neutral as possible.

School Board members expressed their appreciation for how well the short-term interim superintendency has worked out.

“I personally have been stunned by how well the last (months) have gone; it far exceeded my expectations of what we might be able to accomplish,” said LaFortune. “I am really encouraged by the new found internal collaboration and the sea change in tone I have seen …. I look at this as a tremendous opportunity to try something we haven’t tried before and see where it goes.”

“I completely agree,” said member Beth Johnston. “It’s been very positive.” She said staff members have said how impressed they are with what has happened in the last several weeks.

“As a school board member, I appreciate the fact our communication has improved,” said Christina Shea. “We know what is going on, and even when I ask a simple question, I get a huge email back with more information. We were often in the dark before, and this helps us make the best decisions. ”

The vote to have Saco Food Service Director Susan Morrell serve in the same capacity in Biddeford and Dayton was also unanimous, and will result in a $32,000 savings to Saco and $22,000 in savings  to Biddeford and Dayton.

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.

Ray has been superintendent in Biddeford for more than nine years, and in Dayton for seven.

He thanked the board on behalf of SMAC.

“We believe collaboration will make us stronger,” said Ray. He said SMAC will “make sure we’re making decisions that benefit our kids, our community and our staff.”

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