Possible school reorganization topic at meeting in Vassalboro

by Mary Grow

The possibility of another school reorganization that will affect Vassalboro was again a major topic of discussion at the Sept. 19 school board meeting.

Years ago Vassalboro was a separate school entity. Then it became part of School Union #52 with China and Winslow. School Union #52 dissolved after a state-wide reorganization under 2007 legislation; Vassalboro, Winslow and Waterville became AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) #92, with headquarters in Waterville, while China joined the Oakland-based Messalonskee group in RSU (Regional School Unit) #18.

At the Vassalboro board’s August and September meetings, Superintendent Eric Haley explained that Governor Paul LePage wants to create School Management and Leadership Centers (SMLCs) that would take over business management for significant numbers of schools. The new centers would assume responsibility for such services as payroll, accounts receivable, transportation coordination and professional development.

To encourage schools to create the consolidated centers, Haley said, the governor’s budget cuts state reimbursement to central offices like AOS #92’s, planning to reduce it annually until in 2021 members of RSUs and AOSs pay the entire administrative cost with local funds.

Between the August and September Vassalboro meetings, Haley and other AOS #92 officials went to a conference on SMLCs sponsored by the Maine School Management Association and the Portland-based law firm Drummond Woodsum.

Haley told the Vassalboro board that most attendees went to the conference eager to compete to set up as SMLCs. They left saying “no way,” primarily because the conference sponsors advised caution and waiting to see what happens.

“It was just amazing how everyone flipped on this,” Haley commented.

He pointed out that so far there is no detailed plan for SMLCs. He doubts any school group will be able to create an SMLC by the current July 1, 2018, deadline. Any organizational change would require a plan that gained approval from the state Department of Education and from local voters, Haley said.

As in August, board members tried with limited success to foresee what effect potential changes could have on the quality of education in Vassalboro and the cost to taxpayers.

For example, Haley said state officials see the SMLC heads more as business executives than as educators. Schools like Vassalboro would need their own superintendent, either one person doubling as principal and superintendent or a part-time superintendent in addition to the principal.

Vassalboro Community School Principal Dianna Gram doubts one person could be both principal and superintendent. There’s too much for the principal to do daily in the school for him or her to have other responsibilities, in her opinion.

Another issue is what, if anything, SMLCs would do to correct what Haley and Finance Director Paula Pooler see as too many burdens on central office staff. Haley said that they often cannot meet all the requests from three municipalities as fast as local officials would like; an SMLC office would presumably serve 10 or more municipalities.

The reorganization issue will continue to appear on Vassalboro School Board agendas.

In other business Sept. 19, board members unanimously approved a list of appointments that included Jasmine Estes as a first-grade teacher, Katie Esancy and Melissa LeHay as educational technicians and James Pinkham as a bus driver.

The next Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Oct. 17.

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