South Portland School Board endorses regional alliance

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The School Board on Monday unanimously endorsed an interlocal agreement with 11 area school districts to collaborate and share services. 

Final approval of the pact will be sought from city voters in a Nov. 6 referendum.

The state Department of Education had given its OK to the regional service center, which includes 11 southern Maine public school districts: Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, Brunswick, Gorham, Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport, Durham, Pownal), Regional School Unit 6/School Administrative District 6 (Buxton, Hollis, Standish, Limington, Frye Island), Regional School Unit 14 (Windham, Raymond) and School Administrative District 15 (Gray, New Gloucester).

The Greater Sebago Educational Alliance Regional Service Center is one of 12 centers statewide. They represent 84 school administrative units and 56 percent of Maine’s students.

Each center is a nonprofit, multi-service agency formed “for the purpose of serving its member units’ needs;” increasing access to “high-quality, engaging” student programming; increasing effectiveness through technical assistance; providing regionally shared services to districts, and implementing grants received for state initiatives.

Services shared by the districts in the Greater Sebago Education Alliance will include joint purchasing of food supplies; joint professional development offerings; joint substitute teacher recruiting, training, and diversity recruitment, and joint English Language Learners intake processes.

In addition to potential cost savings, districts in regional service centers will also receive a “Regionalization and Efficiency Assistance Allocation” – more money – as part of General Purpose Aid from the state for being involved.

If South Portland did not join the alliance, it could have lost a state subsidy of $41,000 in fiscal year 2019 – although Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin said at the July 9 meeting the district would not have joined the center if it was not in the best interest of students. 

He said each year the district typically has about seven students for whom needs cannot properly be met, and the collaboration will resolve that concern and expand services.  

Kunin said the agreement allows South Portland and the other districts to collaborate and share professional expertise, whether it’s in science curriculum or writing instruction.

“This provides a format to do that. I see value in deepening our collaboration,” Kunin said. 

The superintendent said the collaboration will also allow the School Department to apply for grants it is otherwise not eligible for because it is too small. A recent example is a federal grant to improve school safety that South Portland was barred from applying for because its enrollment of 3,000 students was too low.

Total student enrollment in kindergarten through grade 12 for the 11 districts would be 15,000. 

If the agreement for some reason fails to benefit the city schools, South Portland has negotiated an option to “go dormant,” Kunin said, and no longer be fiscally responsible for the alliance.

There is a $1,000 membership fee for all members, and a service allocation of $23,000 is also shared by the members. 

According to the Greater Sebago Education Alliance application, the center will be governed by a board of directors that includes the superintendents of each of the districts, or their designee.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka. 

South Portland Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin: “I see value in deepening our collaboration.”

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