Reorganization update: Falmouth gets cold feet, opposition group in Freeport organizes against consolidation plan
A quick look at the Department of Education’s reorganization plan website would have the casual observer thinking the school unit consolidation effort is going swimmingly. All down the list of merger proposals one sees that the Department has added a bright red “APPROVED” to indicate the proposals have won the blessing of Education Commissioner Sue Gendron. Looks like things are going well.
As Vicki Wallack helpfully observed in a recent column, however, the vast majority of the “APPROVED” proposals are so-called “alternative” plans, submitted by districts that are big enough already that they need not consolidate with a neighboring district at all. Only two proposals involving actual consolidation have been approved by voters thus far: a Bath-area proposal that predated reorganization and a merger plan for five districts in lower Kennebec County.
But what of the Falmouth/SAD 51 merger plan that the state has been holding up as a model for others to follow? It turns out the Falmouth has been thinking twice about the idea of consolidation. According to a report in the Forecaster, representatives from Falmouth went on bended knee before Commissioner Gendron last week to see if they could back out of the merger plan and adopt an alternative approach instead. Unsurprisingly, the Commissioner said no.
One of the only other APPROVED merger plans, between MSAD 53 and MSAD 59, was defeated by Madison voters June 10, sending planners there back to the drawing board.
One of the other merger plans near completion is the Freeport/Durham/Pownal consolidation proposal, which, though only finalized days ago, has already led to the organization of an opposition group called “Freeport Families for Education.” Among that group’s concern are the cost-sharing provisions of the plan and the potential overcrowding of Freeport High School that is likely to result from the addition of hundreds of kids from Durham and Pownal. High schoolers in those two towns have school choice today, but very few choose to attend Freeport. If the merger plan is approved, they won’t have a choice.
So, two consolidation plans approved by voters thus far, one voted down, the one held up as a model for Maine getting cold feet and trying to back out, and yet another inspiring an organized opposition group. Not a great track record so far…