LAMOINE, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- For many towns and cities across Maine, schools are the cornerstone of the community, but with fewer students, and rising costs, The state, under the leadership of Governor John Baldacci, helped enact a school consolidation law. It went into effect July 1 2009. The goal was to consolidate the 290 local districts into about 80 regional school units or RSU's in an effort to cut adminstrative costs. For a number of communities, the loss of local control was too great a sacrifice. Last November, five towns in three separate districts voted to withdraw from their RSU and form their own local districts. Those communities included Ellsworth, Hancock, Lamoine, Wiscassett, and Saco. A month Later Freeport voted on withdrawal too. Those communities are now in the process of developing their own districts.
Inside the halls of Lamoine Consolidated School, it's a typical school day. There's no noticeable change in the day to day instruction to kids here, but behind the scenes, work is moving forward to create a new local district.
Dr. Judy Lucarelli, a consultant hired by the town to help the newly elected school board, is helping form the plans and polices for the new district. That includes everything from hiring a superintendent, to drafting facilities policies, negotiating union contracts, and creating budgets.
"I would say average for the 6 months they'll have 3 to 4 meetings a month," Dr. Lucarelli said.
Gordon Donaldson and Brent Jones are two of the three new school board members elected earlier this month. For both of them, it made sense to break away from the RSU.
"The decision making was taken out of our hands and ended up in the hands of a large school district board that we didn't know a whole lot about and didn't communicate a whole lot about in terms of decisions that were being made," explained Donaldson.
"And these separate units that had developed a culture over decades and have them conform as though they were a singularly built entity," added Jones.
The idea behind School District Consolidation was to reduce administrative costs and allow more money to be put toward curriculum, teachers, and students. It was a major focus of Governor Baldacci's second term and it's an initiative he still feels is necessary now.
"We have 600 new a administrators over the last 3 or 4 years and we've lost 25,000 school children," said Baldacci. "We spend a billion dollars on education each year at the state level and about a billion at the local level and its really not being spent more in the classroom and the students and teachers it's being spent on administration."
But in Lamoine, where they had been in a consolidated district for more than four years, Gordon Donaldson says nobody could show him where the town was saving any money.
"The original point was it was going to be more economically feasible for these big units to work and we in the process of withdrawing asked the RSU to show us the money show us the data and we never got it." said Donaldson.
But Lucarelli, who was a superintendent of SAU 76 back in 1989, has a different perspective. She says that for the towns of Brooklin and Sedgwick spliting apart did cost more.
"The budgets went up substantially for those two towns when they pulled apart and those two towns had fewer than 100 kids in K through 8."
But in that case Lucarelli admits, both towns were ready for that, and the majority of people were happy have more control of their school. In Lamoine that appears to be the case too. The newly forming School District in Lamoine will need to pay back the RSU for any costs incurred for the Lamoine Consolidated School while it was a part of the RSU. That is one of the conditions of its withdrawal from the RSU. The Lamoine School District must be up and running by July first.