Regional school center on Portland ballot

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PORTLAND — Question 1 on the Nov. 6 municipal ballot will ask voters whether the Portland Public Schools should join a newly created regional service center called the Greater Sebago Education Alliance.

The alliance is designed to create efficiencies and ultimately save money on a variety of school district administrative costs.

Creation of regional service centers across the state is an initiative of the Maine Department of Education that’s specifically designed to foster improved partnerships and sharing common functions among school districts.

By joining the education alliance, Portland becomes eligible for at least $100,000 in system administration funding from the state, along with the possibility of accessing additional resources.

Along with Portland, the new regional service center would also include South Portland, Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth, Westbrook, Gorham, Brunswick and School Administrative District 6 based in Standish, Regional School Unit 14 based in Windham and SAD 15 based in Gray.

This past spring the Portland School Board took the initial step of entering into an interlocal agreement to create the Greater Sebago Education Alliance, but in order to officially establish the 10-district group each participating community must approve joining through a local referendum process.

“As part of a GSEA membership, the Portland Public Schools will be participating in a food service purchasing co-op and in regional professional development,” the school department said in a press release.

The education alliance won’t just be about saving money, though. The application to the MDOE states the regional service center will also act “as an incubator for new regional programs and services.”

Major savings aren’t anticipated, at least in the initial years of the alliance, but the application states that creating an economy of scale will help improve the overall quality of services provided, while also leading to key efficiencies.

In addition to working together on food purchasing and providing joint professional development opportunities, members of the education alliance have also discussed joint substitute teacher recruiting, diversity training and English Language Learner intake, and sharing grants.

The Greater Sebago Education Alliance will be governed by a board of directors that includes the superintendents of each of the districts involved, or an approved designee. A part-time director will also be hired to help the school districts effectively cooperate with each other.

The alliance is not like a regional school unit or school administrative district. None of the participating school districts will be asked to relinquish or change their local district governance or organizational practices and each district will also continue to have its own budget development and approval process.

Annual dues of $1,000 will be charged for each participating district, which MDOE is picking up for the first year of the regional service center. It would also be relatively simple for a district to withdraw from the alliance if  a significant benefit from membership is not realized. That decision would have to be made by February of each year.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

By joining the Greater Sebago Education Alliance the Portland Public Schools will be eligible for at least $100,000 in system administration funds from the state.

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