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Education Committee Sends LD1932 to Senate
Revised bill removes financial barriers, allows some waivers
January 17, 2008
AUGUSTA – A bill that removes financial and other barriers to school districts trying to reorganize administrative functions is poised for action in the Senate, perhaps as early as Tuesday. The Legislature’s Education Committee, which had voted 10-3 “ought-to-pass” last Friday, reviewed and agreed to the final language of the proposed revisions Wednesday. The legislation had received a favorable vote from the committee last month but was brought back last week for additional discussion and revisions.
Committee members agreed on all of the key elements of the bill but one; the minority report, supported by three committee members, adds a provision to allow for a union-like governance structure, called a “union school association.”
Perhaps the most significant change in the bill would authorize the commissioner of education to grant a waiver to school systems and allow regional school units of as few as 1,000 students under certain circumstances. Currently, RSUs must have 2,500 students unless circumstances such as geography or population density justify an exception and, even in those cases must have at least 1,200 students.
The new waiver provision could allow reorganizations that are not currently permissible in areas such as Machias, East Machias and other central Washington County communities, several communities around Presque Isle; and the geographically-isolated communities around Rangeley and Bethel. Units would still have to submit a plan that meets the applicable requirements in the law and demonstrates the need for a waiver. Committee members said they wanted to allow for these exceptions where they make sense, but not to open the door to widespread applications for waivers in areas where other solutions are possible and should be pursued.
Other changes in LD1932 include:
The bill also clarifies issues of debt liability and the initial election of RSU board members and makes other minor changes.
Committee members heard from a number of people working in the field last week and were impressed by the sense of urgency expressed regarding passage of the bill. One facilitator who works with regional planning committees noted there is a proposed RSU with a completed plan waiting only for the legislative changes needed to allow the local cost-sharing formula included in their plan. In other areas, planning committees have halted discussions while they wait for the Legislature to act. In still others, units are proceeding, but with uncertainty as to what solutions will be allowed for them locally. By Friday committee members made clear they appreciated the urgency and they wanted to move quickly to finalize the bill and get it to the full Legislature.
“The committee’s action demonstrates a positive response to the barriers identified by the Department and by school units,” Gendron said Thursday. “This bill removes those financial barriers, especially, and others that were significant barriers to units coming together in some places. We fully expect that regional planning committees can now move forward, knowing the bill is headed to the full Legislature.”
Once the revised language goes through the Revisor’s Office for finalization, it will be available under “Reorganization Law” on the Department’s reorganization website: http://www.maine.gov/education/supportingschools .
David Connerty-Marin, Director of Communications, Maine Department of Education 207-624-6880
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