(from Maine Townsman, February 2004)
By Lee Burnett, Freelance Writer
The Gubernatorial task force chaired by James Doughty, dean of the education department at Husson College in Bangor, made nine recommendations for saving money, improving efficiency, and improving equitable use of state resources.
Recommendation 1 - Develop more regional cooperatives, not just for buying fuel, utilities, supplies and equipment, but for providing a slew of services such as special education, maintenance, transportation, professional development, business operations, administration, and personnel and contract negotiations. The state would pick up the initial cost of hiring a staff person to coordinate the cooperative (a declining share over a five-year-period). In addition, the state would also provide 25 percent reimbursement for professional development through the University of Maine System. Lastly, the state would provide technical assistance, training programs, and the necessary software for region-wide services. Participating school districts must develop comprehensive action plans with savings targets and must document yearly cost savings to continue receiving incentives.
Recommendation 2 - Merge small school districts into units of larger size. For new districts of at least 1,000 students, the state would boost state education aid by 7.5 percent for five years and assume 25 percent of certain debts. For new districts of at least 2,500 students, the state would boost state education aid by 10 percent for five years and assume 50 percent of certain debts. To receive the subsidy, school unions would have to dissolve and form school administrative districts. Each new district must have at least one high school larger than 300 students. Yearly cost savings must be documented.
Recommendation 3 - Encourage school districts to examine administrative costs in similar sized districts. Information to be published by Maine’s Department of Education.
Recommendation 4 - Endorse the recommendation of an earlier legislative task force to merge small school districts into larger units.
Recommendation 5 - Establish a uniform schedule for reimbursing school districts for transportation costs. The task force found that wide disparities exist in school busing costs and the two biggest factors are the size of the district and the number of miles of roads in the district.
Recommendation 6 - Revamp and standardize the system for identifying special education students. The task force found that Maine is third most generous among states in how it identifies students as needing special education services. The task force also recommends reimbursing districts according to a uniform schedule rather than after the fact according to expenses incurred.
Recommendation 7 - Study the feasibility of abolishing 11th and 12th grade vocational education and establishing a single-year, post-graduate program open to all at no extra cost. The task force believed that abolition of vocational education at the high school level was necessary to free students up to meet statewide graduation standards.
Recommendation 8 - Revamp the formula for reimbursing financially strapped school districts for extraordinary costs associated with special education, transportation, vocational education and early childhood education. The task force found that due to growing disparities in property values, relatively affluent communities are now receiving nearly three-quarters of the $78 million distributed through the Program Cost Circuit Breaker program.
Recommendation 9 - Follow the lead of the Maine State Board of Education, which is witholding new construction funds for any high school of less than 300 students.