HERMON – With little discussion, Hermon School Committee members expressed “no confidence” Monday night in the planned regional school unit consolidation with Carmel and Levant.
The unanimous vote is largely symbolic. Residents of the towns still will decide in January whether they want to create the RSU, said Superintendent of Schools Patricia Duran.
If approved by voters, Hermon and the two towns of SAD 23 – Carmel and Levant – would share a superintendent, a school committee, and eventually move to a common teachers contract, among other things.
“It’s not that we’re against it,” school committee member Donna Pulver said Tuesday evening. “It’s just that we can’t make any savings, and [the state is] trying to make us prove that we’ll save money.”
The goal of the RSUs is to have school units join together so they will save money on things such as transportation, maintenance and central office costs while keeping up educational standards, said David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the Maine Department of Education.
Hermon, Carmel and Levant’s RSU plan was developed in response to the 2007 school consolidation legislation requiring the approximately 290 school districts, regions and units in Maine to trim to fewer than 80. Schools across the state are wrestling with that thorny assignment.
“It’s disappointing,” Connerty-Marin said when he heard of Hermon’s vote of no confidence. “We’ve found many regions around the state where communities have been able to find significant savings – if not in the first year or the second year, then by the third year.”
The only operational RSU in the state is in Bath, West Bath, Woolwich, Phippsburg and Arrowsic. That one started operating on July 1, 2008.
Schools can “opt out” of joining the RSU, Connerty-Marin said, but it will cost them.
“If they vote it down, in most cases there’s a 2 percent reduction in state subsidy to districts that don’t reorganize,” he said.
Pulver said that Hermon School Committee members have been working on their reorganization plan for quite some time, and that according to their figures, losing the 2 percent state subsidy would be less expensive than joining the RSU.
The main roadblock to reorganizing is cost, Pulver said. In Hermon, 88 percent of taxes are spent on the schools, and Hermon teachers make more money than those in Carmel or Levant. Equalizing those salaries would cost more than Hermon can pay, she said.
Pulver expressed doubt that the Maine Educational Association would allow the teachers to work for differing amounts of money.
And because Hermon has a larger tax base than the other two towns, it would be expected to pay more than half of the operational costs of the RSU, Pulver said.
“This is where the bind is,” she said.
Connerty-Marin said the towns should be able to design a plan that works to everybody’s benefit.
“Some people have accused this of being a one-size-fits-all solution, but it’s actually a highly flexible process,” he said. “All the pieces are determined locally – and ultimately, local voters get the opportunity to vote on their locally crafted plan.”