Sebago working to build its own school system

Critical Election on February 27 — Please Vote!
While the work to create the new SAU continues apace, Sebago voters are reminded that there will also be an important special town election on Tuesday, Feb. 27, to:
Elect by secret ballot, three school board members. One will be for a one-year term, one for a two-year term and one for a three-year term.
Vote to expand the number of members of the school board from three to five members at the next annual town meeting. (State law does not allow this to happen until after the first vote for three members.)
Vote to appropriate $25,000 from the undesignated fund balance for use in establishing the new school administrative unit (SAU). (This is required to continue the process of creating the SAU.)
Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Please come out and vote.

By Allen Crabtree

Special to The News

SEBAGO — Remember the old joke about the dog who was always chasing cars?  Then, one day he caught one and didn’t know what to do with it!

Sebago voters have been working for two years to withdraw from SAD 61, but unlike the dog in the joke, they knew exactly what they were doing and are now heavily involved in creating a new Sebago School Administrative Unit (SAU).

In the Nov. 7, 2017 referendum, Sebago voters overwhelmingly approved the withdrawal agreement negotiated with SAD 61 that would keep Sebago Elementary School from being closed and allow Sebago to insure a top-quality education for their children. Sebago had joined SAD 61 in 1966.  Leaving it to create a new SAU will allow Sebago to run its own elementary school as the town used to before joining SAD 61, while also tuitioning older students to middle and high schools of parents’ choice.

Creating a new Sebago SAU

In order to be ready to open Sebago Elementary School in September 2018, there are a number of things that need to be done to set up the SAU.

Dr. Mark Eastman is Sebago’s educational consultant and veteran of many similar successful efforts of small Maine towns to withdraw from their school districts and set up their own school system. (In the past several years, there have been at least 24 of them.)

“The communities who are successful in withdrawing soon find themselves in an environment where they are on their own with little guidance from the Maine Department of Education (DOE) and support from their former school unit,” Dr. Eastman said. “The path Sebago is now embarked on to create a new SAU will require much work, but it is very doable.”

Dr. Eastman added, “Sebago has many advantages going for it, including smart and enthusiastic students, dedicated, experienced teachers and staff, an active and strong parent participation, a solid school building, and most importantly, the strong backing of Sebago taxpayers and voters.”

The first steps include electing a new Sebago School Board. Three members will be elected at a Feb. 27 referendum, and Sebago voters will also be asked then to approve expanding the three-member board to five, with two additional members being elected at the annual June 2018 town meeting.

One of the first things that the new school board will do is to recruit and hire a part-time superintendent. The board must also establish the policies, procedures, contracts and staffing by July 2018 for school to open in September.

Citizen Transition Teams are key

The 100-odd steps involved in creating a new SAU seem daunting at first. Everything that has been handled by or through SAD 61 would now be the town’s responsibility. Details will have to be worked out, contracts negotiated and supplies and personnel on board when school opens.

How will student transportation be handled — will Sebago hire bus drivers or contract for them?

How and where will maintenance of the vehicles be done?

What company will help with data collection for various government agencies, what policies should be adapted, which vendors will be needed for phones, copiers, plumbing, etc.?

Will programs, such as pre-kindergarten, be added at Sebago Elementary?

More than 60 people turned out for a Jan. 11 Sebago community meeting to discuss “where do we go from here now that we have withdrawn from SAD 61?” Sebago citizens will play a pivotal role in answering these questions and creating the new SAU. There was a strong and positive response to help as people joined one of six Transition Teams including: Policies and Procedures, Finance, Educational Programming, Staffing and Administration, Operations and Technology.

In the last month, the Transition Teams have been meeting regularly and are making positive progress. Here is what they are doing to help get the new SAU up and running:

Policies and Procedures Team is preparing recommendations for a set of policies and procedures as well as a parent/student handbook and school calendar. The team is reviewing the current SAD 61 policies, as well as with other newly-formed Maine school districts and will prioritize the policies to be enacted. At some point in the future, the team will also recommend procedures for emergency closure and develop an emergency response plan.

Finance Team is working to develop a recommended annual budget to run the SAU, recommend who will handle educational accounting and payroll services, identify transitional funding and banking services, set up vendor lists, establish service accounts, develop and bid insurance needs and obtain software systems.

The Team has also prepared a suggested school budget validation time line.

Educational Programming Team has surveyed teachers and parents about the existing curriculum and its implementation. With the teachers’ support, the team is developing curriculum goals for the school board to move toward an appropriate, rigorous, relevant and engaging curriculum for the kids of Sebago.

Staffing and Administration Team has contacted many of the other small schools in the state that have successfully withdrawn to learn from their experiences, their administrative structure, and how their positions and hierarchy are working for them.

The team is looking at various administrative models to determine which ones may be best for Sebago and is reviewing state requirements on pre-k program and other programs including nursing regulations.

In addition, the team will identify services that can be shared with neighboring districts, identify dual certified personnel positions, identify teachers and staff who will continue with the new SAU, address local recertification and establish a secure filing system.

In future work, the team will also arrange for certification/background checks to be done, issue employment contracts and develop a parent reporting system.

Operations Team is looking at Sebago’s student transportation needs (maintaining our own buses vs. contracting with a private company or another nearby district) and will develop a transportation plan.

They will also develop a food service program including incorporating more local food sources and determine the immediate and long-term building maintenance and custodial needs for the school. They will also develop public safety plans and procedures.

Technology Team is reviewing technology needs for the new SAU and is contacting a list of vendors. The team will recommend technology systems and at some point in the future will create an SAU website, create assessment databases and recommend training videos for teachers.

Sebago Transition Team member Claudia Lowe summed up the work of the teams: “The goal is to gather as much information as possible to help the new school board members with the many tasks and decisions they need to make to successfully transition to the new SAU.”

A Very Tight Time Line

The recommendations of the Transition Teams will be presented to the new school board once it is elected, and to the new superintendent when one is hired. Everything is on a very tight time line in order to open the school in September 2018.

By July 2018, the school board must adopt policies and procedures, enter into vendor and staffing contracts, and recommend an operating budget for approval by Sebago voters.

The proposed SAU budget will be presented to Sebago voters at a School Budget Public Hearing on/about April 24, 2018, where voters will have a chance to ask questions about the budget and the progress of creating the new SAU.

Sebago voters will then vote at a separate referendum on an article, “Do you favor approving the Sebago SAU budget for the upcoming school year that was adopted at the latest Sebago SAU budget meeting?” This referendum will be held on/about May 1, 2018.


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