Feuding Continues Over Maine Efforts to Merge Districts
A battle under way in the Maine legislature could undermine the hard-won victory last year—led by Democratic Gov. John E. Baldacci—to consolidate the state’s hundreds of school districts and local school boards.
Gov. Baldacci last week vetoed a bill that would have allowed the formation of regional school unions—entities that would share a superintendent and a central-office administration, but could otherwise maintain separate budgets, school boards, and curricula. Such unions had been eliminated by the consolidation law enacted last year.
But as of press time, the final outcome remained up in the air.
The Senate had sustained the governor’s veto, effectively killing the measure. But members of the House of Representatives later approved a bill that would repeal the consolidation law entirely, and another that contains “relatively noncontroversial fixes” to the law, according to Travis Kennedy, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat.
Lawmakers were expected to keep wrangling over the issue for several days, with the current session set to conclude April 16, Mr. Kennedy said.
Gov. Baldacci has introduced a separate measure to address some “financial flaws” in the original consolidation law, said David Connerty-Marin, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Education.
Gov. Baldacci and Susan A. Gendron, the state education commissioner, oppose the union governance structure as costly and impractical, said Mr. Connerty-Marin.
Though dozens of districts are moving to form larger governance entities, the legislative fight has halted progress in recent weeks.
The law approved last June would shrink the number of school districts to 80 from 290 through mergers and consolidations. Some educators have questioned the projected savings of tens of millions of dollars. ("Maine Moving Ahead on School Consolidation Plan," June 20, 2007.)
Some 195,000 students are enrolled in the state’s public schools.
Last fall, more than 60 bills were introduced to revise, rewrite, or repeal the consolidation law.
Vol. 27, Issue 33, Page 15