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Good evening and welcome to the public information meeting on the proposed regional school unit (RSU) for this area.  My name is ________________________ and I am the [school board, selectman, or town] member on the Regional Planning Committee (RPC) that was charged with developing the organizational plan for this RSU.  Each town had three members on the committee, one who was a school board member, a selectman and member of the town at-large.  So you can see that the committee was comprised of a diverse group of individuals.  We began our work in August 2007, explored other alternatives for a number of months, and in June 2008 we re-joined our efforts to develop this RSU.
Our draft plan was approved by the Commissioner or Education on October 8th.  The public will vote December 9th on whether or not to adopt the plan.  We are here this evening to give you a brief overview of what is in the plan.  When I have finished with this presentation, we will welcome questions from you.
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There are 13 towns that will participate in the proposed RSU.  Six of them come from School Union 92 (highlighted in lavender), six towns come from Flanders Bay Community School District (highlighted in beige) and Ellsworth. In accordance with State law, residents will vote separately in each municipality except for MSAD 26 (Eastbrook and Waltham) and Flanders Bay CSD, which will vote as combined school districts.
The proposed RSU will move forward if SAUs representing at least 1,200 students approve the plan on December 9th.
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The members of the regional planning committee felt that it was very important for us to keep the academic welfare of our students in the forefront.  We spent time discussing what is important for a quality education and over time we decided on an over-arching objective for our plan - that each and every student within the new RSU will receive an equitable and effective learning experience in comparable physical facilities. 
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When Governor Baldacci proposed that the 286 school districts within Maine could be consolidated in to a much smaller number of districts, he felt that the taxpayers could save money because there would be fewer administrative offices.  So one important thing to keep in mind is that this is a school administrative reorganization which will consolidate central offices and, hopefully, improve the efficient and effective use of limited resources.
While the law does mandate consolidation of central offices, it is not designed to consolidate schools.  There are currently three and a half central administrative offices in SU 92, SU 96 and Ellsworth.  Each central office has a superintendent.  Under the new RSU there will be one central office and a satellite office because of the large geographical region of the RSU. 
The RPC feels that there is a potential to reduce operating costs with the consolidated RSU, and estimated cost savings will be presented later in this presentation.
Most importantly, the RPC feels that the students come first so we look to improved educational opportunities.  With collaboration, it should be possible to offer courses that currently cannot be offered because there are not a number of sufficient students in individual units.  This should allow schools to improve the academic rigor offered in the schools, thus making our graduates more competitive when they go to college or into the work force.
The state also wrote the law such that school choice would be preserved for those communities that have it.  School choice will be discussed later in this presentation.
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The first issue that the RPC dealt with was the governance of the RSU. The law articulates the core functions for which the regional school unit board is responsible, including, but not limited to: employment of the superintendent; central business functions; administration of special education; administration of transportation; adoption of a core curriculum; adoption of the regional school unit budget; reporting required by state or federal regulation; employment of all RSU employees; establishing a common school calendar; adoption of policies for all schools in the RSU
The RPC determined that this board will have 15 members and every participating town will be represented on the board.  The voting power of each member is based upon the population of the member town.  The terms for each board members are three years.
The plan allows for local advisory committees.
First let’s look at the details of the board more closely.
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As you can see, the population in the member towns ranges from 277 in Sorrento to 7075 in Ellsworth.  You will also notice that each town has at least one member on the board.  Ellsworth is the exception because the RPC did not feel that one member should have over three times the power of the member from Hancock, the next largest town.  So Ellsworth will have three members and each of these members will have 2368 votes.
The experience of school board members is that the most important thing is to be able to have your voice heard.  By and large, most school board members are truly concerned about the welfare of all students within their district and they do not distinguish between a student from Sorrento or one from Ellsworth.  Each member typically votes his/her conscience and may differ from another from his/her community.
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The plan provides for a local advisory committee for each school. The purpose of these committees is to advise the building administrator (principal), the RSU board and the community itself.  In order to insure that there is a liaison with the RSU board, at least one member of the committee must be an RSU member.  In addition the chair of the LAC will be an RSU board member. The method of selecting the members of the local committee is left to each community.
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Each participating community will transfer its schools and property to the new RSU.  Any property that is excluded from transfer is listed in the plan.
Communities are to be allowed to continue using the buildings and grounds as they have historically used them.  The building administrator will be responsible for scheduling activities.
If at some time in the future, the RSU decides that it no longer needs a piece of transferred property for educational purposes, it will offer to return the property to the local community.  The reason for offering the property, rather than giving back, is because the community may decide it does not want the property.  For example, if the school had an asbestos problem, the community may decide it does not want the responsibility of taking care of the problem.
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The RSU will assume any debt for state-approved construction or renovation projects.
The law did not require the new RSU to assume the outstanding indebtedness of a school administrative unit for non-state-funded projects.  The RPC decided that since school property was being transferred to the new RSU, the RSU should be responsible for all debt.  Some of the local debt was approved in order to save money in operational costs.  For example, Ellsworth voted to approve additional funds for an energy system that would ultimately save more than it cost.  Likewise, Lamoine approved a renovation project that will allow its school to operate more efficiently.  Projects like these are a benefit to the RSU and it was felt that the RSU should pay for them.  In addition, it was felt that because future school projects would be covered by the RSU, existing projects should also be the responsibility of the RSU.
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All existing school personnel contracts will be assumed by the RSU.  These cover teacher contracts and some contracts for support personnel.  There are variations in the different contracts and there are different expiration dates for the contracts.  As contracts are renegotiated, efforts will be made to make them consistent across the RSU.  The RSU board is to make all labor contracts comparable within six years after the formation of the RSU.
There are some employees of the different school administrative units that do not have contracts.  These employees are listed within the plan and they will continue to be employed by the new RSU.
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The new RSU will assume other contractual obligations of the various school administrative units.  These may include such things as copying contracts, bus contracts or contracts for snow removal.
Existing fund balances, costs and liabilities will remain with the originating SAU and they continue to be the responsibility of the local communities.  Unallocated balances or reserve funds may be used to reduce financial obligations to the new RSU.  Scholarships that have been established within a community or school will remain with that community or school.  The RSU board will administer the scholarship but it may not change the intent of the original scholarship.  Likewise, trust funds established for a school will remain with that school but the funds will be administered by the RSU board for that purpose.
SU 96 towns are the only towns in the proposed RSU that have funds accrued to cover payroll and benefits for its personnel during the summer.  These funds will be applied to reduce the financial obligation of those member communities in 2009-2010.  These are the one-time savings that were listed in the flyer that was mailed to all residents.
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Cost sharing is of particular concern to communities because it has the potential to shift the cost of providing education from one community to another.  There are two parts of the budgeted costs.
One is the portion of costs that come under Maine’s Essential Programs and Services (EPS), which has determined the estimated cost of providing students with a basic education.  The state bases its aid to support the education of students within a community based upon an EPS funding model, which is developed to include property valuations and number of students.  This formula provides less aid to towns that have high property valuations and more aid to towns with low property valuations.  This portion of cost sharing is determined by the state and cannot be changed.
In most communities, there are additional local costs above EPS.  These are costs that exceed what the state estimates to be the cost of educating students within our towns. The RPC could have elected to use the EPS model for sharing these additional costs across the RSU; however, it would have resulted in shifting the costs to communities with high-value residential property.  The RPC elected to adopt an approach that would result in no cost shifts between communities.
The RPC decided that the responsibility of each community would be based upon its current percent of the combined FY 2009 budgets.   This means that if we combined budgets and a municipality’s current budget represented 35 percent of the combined budget, the municipality would be responsible for 35 percent of the new RSU budget.
Changes in the cost sharing formula for the RSU may be changed only by a majority vote of resident voters within the RSU.
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There are different ways in order to initiate a vote on the cost-sharing formula.  One would be by a written petition of at least 10% of the number of voters voting in the last gubernatorial election within the regional school unit.
Another way would be by the RSU Board itself.  If the majority of the full RSU board determined that changes in relative school costs had resulted in inequities in cost sharing, it could develop a new cost-sharing formula.  Then the proposed formula would be approved or rejected by residents of the RSU.
If neither of these two situations arise, the plan mandates that the RSU board review the cost sharing formula no later than 2015.  Again, any changes in the formula will have to be approved by the voters.
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School choice is preserved under the consolidation law and cannot be removed by the RSU board.  So if school choice exists within a community, it will continue. The RSU will pay tuition costs up to the costs of educating its own students.
Any additional expense for sending a student to a school outside the RSU shall be the responsibility of the municipality in which the student resides.  The community may decide whether it will cover the additional costs or make them the responsibility of the parents of the students.
School choice exists for high school students who reside in SU 92 and for grade school students in Franklin.  There were committee members who felt that if choice existed for some, it should exist for all.  Therefore, the plan suggests that the RSU board work to make school choice more equitable across the entire RSU.
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The state mandates that the plan for the new RSU present potential savings that could be realized because of consolidation of administrative services.  The reduction in administrative personnel as well as the savings from closing a central office will result in a little more than $225,000 annually.  In addition, another $76,000 has been estimated in increased State aid based upon complexities in the school funding formula.  The savings for each individually local community were listed in the flyer that was mailed to each household.
There is potential for additional savings over time.  These savings may arise from:
Common commodity purchases for various items ranging from food to paper supplies
Reduced insurance premiums from combining policies
Reduced audit fees in having only one school district
Reduced transportation costs by combining some routes that presently serve separate SAUs Shared instructional positions that will allow for expanded program opportunities throughout the RSU while eliminating overlapping positions
Common commodity purchases for various items ranging from food to paper supplies
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The law imposes penalties on communities that vote against joining an RSU.  The penalties for the entire RSU will total an estimated $747,000.  The cost on a community basis were listed in the flyer that was mailed to each household.
A unit that votes against reorganization in one referendum can develop another reorganization plan and hold another referendum.  The unit can avoid penalties if it approves reorganization by referendum no later than January 30, 2009 and is operational as a regional unit by July 1, 2009.
These are monetary costs but there are other factors that voters need to keep in mind.  School unions that have provided the structure for central offices serving the communities within the union will no longer exist.  This will mean the loss of the central office and the loss of shared resources.  Such services will have to be contracted for separately unless new inte-local agreements are developed among participating municipalities.
This means that when you are making your decision of whether or not to join the proposed RSU, you need to consider the state penalty which is an annual penalty, and it will be adjusted for inflation.
In addition, you need to consider the savings foregone.  These are also annual savings.
You also need to consider the cost of providing the central office functions individually as well as the potential cost of loss of state support for construction and renovation.
For the RSU when you look at the savings of $301,000 plus the penalties of $747,000, here is an annual cost of about a million dollars associated with voting against consolidation.
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Once the proposed RSU is approved by voters and certified by the Commissioner of Education, existing SAU school boards will meet to elect an interim secretary in accordance with State law.  Concurrent with this election, school board members from each municipality shall appoint from their membership one representative or in the case of Ellsworth three representatives to serve on an interim RSU Board until the election of the permanent RSU Board.  The responsibilities of the interim RSU Board shall be to initiate (1) the superintendent search process; (2) the 2009-2010 budget process; and (3) the drafting of the 2009-2010 school calendar.  The interim secretary shall serve as secretary to the interim RSU Board.
The interim secretary will also initiate the process of electing the permanent RSU board. The election of directors shall occur as soon as practicable, but likely not before March. Since the RSU board members have staggered three-year terms, with no more than a third of the members up for election in any given year, the terms of the first board members will vary.  Five will be elected for one-year terms, five for two, and five for three year-terms.  The Ellsworth board terms shall include a one-year, a two-year and a three-year term .  The length of term for each of the other municipalities shall be determined by the drawing of lots.
The operational date for the new RSU is July 1, 2009.
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Now it is time to take your questions.
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