Sebago withdrawal from SAD 61 — A matter of local control
By Wayne E. Rivet
SEBAGO — When (or if) Sebago residents consider whether to withdraw from SAD 61 and start their own school system, Dr. Mark Eastman says the main question will be, do taxpayers want local control.
The if is whether Maine’s Department of Education approves of the withdrawal agreement that now sits on the commissioner’s desk in Augusta.
If the commissioner approves the agreement, the next step will be a public hearing.
The agreement was sent to Augusta on June 19. Dr. Eastman, who is serving as the Withdrawal Committee’s consultant, told about a dozen residents attending a recent committee meeting that it is unlikely it will take the full 60 days.
“We are hoping for a clean return,” Eastman said. “The language is fairly standard.
Based on his past experiences with the withdrawal process, Eastman fielded a variety of questions and clarified several issues. They included:
- How many votes at the November referendum will it take to withdraw? Answer: Two-thirds of the number of votes cast that day.
- What will it cost to run a school system? Answer: Dr. Eastman said a lot of work has been done to develop cost estimates, but there is no crystal ball that can tell the committee exact costs two years down the road, from when the group first started work on this effort. If the withdrawal is approved, the Sebago School Administrative Unit (SAU) starts July 2018.
Some numbers are firm, such as debt payment to SAD 61, as well as tuition costs to send students to the middle and high schools.
One resident questioned what Sebago’s financial responsibility would be if SAD 61 moves forward with a Crooked River project.
Sebago Director Joe McMahon said that while the project has yet to resurface for discussion at the SAD 61 board level, it is likely a matter of time that the issue is looked at once more. He noted that the price tag could be in the $8.1 million range.
If Sebago rejects withdrawal, it would be in line with the other three towns to take on this debt. If Sebago withdraws, the town would not be financially responsible for the project.
Under the proposed agreement, Sebago would, however, be held financially responsible for projects at LRHS and LRMS since the town sends students to those schools. At this time, no major projects are planned.
Dr. Eastman noted that the amount of money Sebago would receive, as its share of Capital Reserve funds from SAD 61, is not known. Sebago would receive 14.3% of that fund at the time of withdrawal.
SAD 61 recently pared that fund down, using money (on voter approval) on a variety of capital improvement projects such as upgrading of parking spaces at Songo Locks and Lake Region Middle School, and resurfacing of the high school track (by doing it this summer, the district saved $100,000).
Some unknowns include how to approach hiring a superintendent and how to address special education and fine art services.
Dr. Eastman said the SAU could seek out a retired superintendent, who is looking for a part-time situation. Quickly, Dr. Eastman ruled out the possibility that he might be a candidate.
“There are a lot of good folks out there,” he said. “I will not be a candidate.”
As for special services, Sebago would likely look to contract with either SAD 61 or another outside organization. Sebago could take the approach of “sharing staff” with either SAD 61 or other schools for music and art.
Areas that Dr. Eastman will be “looking for some guidance on” include nursing and guidance services.
He noted that the agreement with SAD 61 allows “school choice” for 20% of Sebago’s student population. That figure increases to 25% during the 10-year agreement with SAD 61. Who would be allowed to look beyond SAD 61 is another question to be considered — one possibility is a lottery.
“The Withdrawal Committee has been sensitive to the fact that people here have fairly strong ties to Lake Region High School. They were Lakers and want their kids to be Lakers,” Dr. Eastman said.
Sebago would also likely consider adding Pre-K, as well as retaining sixth grade rather than students going to the middle school.
- What will present Sebago Elementary teachers and staff do? While Dr. Eastman said there hasn’t been a lot of noise of staff transferring out if Sebago forms its own school system, Johnson suggested that the town reach out to staff to see if they have any questions.
“We need to reach out before they make any decisions,” she said.
The new Sebago SAU would offer staff the same contracts they presently hold with SAD 61.
Since few people have attended Withdrawal Committee meetings (which are open to the public), member Lisa Johnson feels a strong informational campaign is needed.
“There is a lot of misinformation and a lot of fear out there,” she said
- If a new school system is created, what else will need to be done? For one, a school committee would need to be created and the town would need to decide how many members would be used. One likely configuration would be a five-member board, rather than three since it allows more people to work on committees than all the work falling on the shoulders of three people.
Dr. Eastman said if the referendum passes in November, among the first orders of business would be to hire a superintendent and develop a budget.
- What will the current SES building need in the future in terms of maintenance, expansion? SAD 61 would turn over all records in regards to maintenance. One suggestion was to have an independent contractor evaluate the structure.
While the negotiating process between Sebago and SAD 61 “took a little longer than we would have wanted, but that’s the point of negotiations, there is give and take,” Dr. Eastman said the town is in “good shape” as it continues its path toward a November referendum vote.
“Keeping people informed is critical,” he added.
Withdrawal Referendum Timeline
July 31: Deadline for Commissioner of Education to provide conditional approval of withdrawal agreement to SAD 61 and Sebago with a date for the first public hearing. Minimum of 20 days prior to the first public hearing date — expected date, Aug. 21 at the latest.
Aug. 10: Public posting of first public hearing — date, time, location for SAD 61 and all municipalities to discuss merits of the proposed withdrawal agreement.
Aug. 21: Absolute latest date for first public hearing; statute allows 30 days to report results of the hearing to commissioner.
Sept. 9: SAD 61 and Withdrawal Committee submit results of first public hearing and final agreement to commissioner for approval or possible changes.
Sept. 23: Absolute deadline to provide date of referendum for withdrawal agreement to SAD 61 and Sebago if no changes result from public hearing. (Statute, minimum of 45 days prior to referendum in order to be on absentee ballot.)
Oct. 28: Final public hearing date to discuss the withdrawal question on the ballot. (At least 10 days prior to date of referendum vote.)
Nov. 7: Withdrawal Referendum date.