Westbrook to vote on regional service center for schools

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WESTBROOK  — City voters will elect local and state officials in November, and after a City Council meeting Monday, a local referendum question will be decided as well.

On Sept. 10, on a request from school Superintendent Peter Lancia, city councilors decided 6-1 (with Councilor Gary Rairdon opposed) to put a question on the November ballot asking voters whether they support the formation of the Greater Sebago Education Alliance Regional Service Center.

The regional service center, approved by the Westbrook School Board on June 10, is the joint venture of school departments in Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Gorham, Portland, Scarborough, South Portland and Westbrook, as well SAD 6 (Bonny Eagle),  RSU 14 (Windham/Raymond) and RSU 15 (Gray/New Gloucester). It will focus on joint food purchasing; joint professional development; recruitment for substitute teachers and other employees; and English Language Learner student intake. 

The purpose of the Greater Sebago Education Alliance Regional Service Center, according to the interlocal agreement, is to “enhance student learning and opportunities and maximize available and desired resources through the establishment of shared regional initiatives.”

Lancia said in many ways the new regional service center, if formed, would be similar to the Sebago Education Alliance, a group the school district has participated in with Windham/Raymond, Bonny Eagle, Gorham and Scarborough, since 2004.

“This push in forming a regional service center was formalizing what we had already been doing in a number of ways,” he said.

The service center effort,  funded through start-up money from the state and $1,000 membership fees from the school departments, has been reviewed by the Maine Department of Education, but still needs approval from voters in each individual community.

Lancia said several other communities, including Cape Elizabeth, Gorham, Portland and South Portland, will also be voting on the the service center in November. The interlocal agreement has already been approved by voters in the Bonny Eagle and Windham/Raymond school systems.

Lancia told councilors the initiative is a way to incentivize school districts to form regional service centers to reduce cost and increase efficiencies. If districts participate, Lancia said, they will receive their full state funding subsidy. If they don’t, they will be penalized. In Westbrook’s case, this would amount to roughly $56,270 being taken away from the 2018-2019 school year subsidy and $114,000 for the 2019-2020 school year.

If the formation of the regional service center is rejected by Westbrook, the school department would not participate and the disincentive would be imposed.

“My fear is people reject this because they think it like the regionalization that took place 10, 12 years ago that was not overly popular. That is not an effort to combine school districts,” he said Tuesday.

The interlocal agreement, assuming it is passed by all necessary parties, would last until June 30, 2020, but would be extended every Feb. 1 unless the regional service center is dissolved by the group’s board of directors, which is made up of  the superintendent (or designee) from each of the school departments.

Lancia said Westbrook joining the regional service center effort is the right thing to do, even if there wasn’t a financial incentive to do so.

“This makes sense from a service perspective, but it also makes sense because we don’t want to lose that subsidy,” he said Tuesday.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

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