2018-01-05 / Front Page

Schools seek service efficiencies

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Scarborough School Department is looking into the potential of collaborating with nearby school districts to find more efficient way of providing services to students and has found support for doing so from superintendents in Bonny Eagle, Cape Elizabeth, Gorham, South Portland, Westbrook and Windham/Raymond.

School districts have been incentivized to look into creating regional service centers – official partnerships – by the Maine Department of Education.

Each regional service center that is formed must involve at least two school districts and tackle two of the following:

• Accounting/payroll/financial management; transportation/vehicle maintenance;

• Special education, gifted and talented or alternative education programs/administration;

• Substitute teaching;

• Technology;

• Food service planning/purchasing;

• Energy management/facilities maintenance; school leadership academies;

• Staff training/professional development;

• Shared education programs/staff/support services;

• Summer school/extended school year/tutoring/ student achievement services;

• Shared extracurricular/co-curricular program or superintendent services.

According to the Maine Department of Education, “as part of Maine’s plan for putting students first, the Maine Department of Education is focused on improving educational services and increasing student achievement through innovative regional partnerships,

As a result of the passage of the biennial budget and the end of the 128th legislative session, new opportunities are now available to provide support for regional efforts that will improve opportunity and access for Maine students by economizing on and maximizing educational services.”

In late November, Superintendent Julie Kukenberger submitted a preliminary application with the Department of Education to form a regional service center with Cape Elizabeth

School District. It was one of 23 that the Department of Education got from school districts from all across the state.

Kukenberger said the Scarborough/Cape Alliance, if ultimately approved, would focus on food service administration and joint purchasing of custodial supplies and materials.

“We are always looking for efficiencies in this way,” Kukenberger told the board of education Nov. 30 shortly after sending in the preliminary application. “It’s just about reinforcing and solidifying some of the good work that’s already happening.”

Anticipated savings, Kukenberger wrote in the application, would be reinvested in the Scarborough/Cape Alliance to “improve and/or expand direct educational services, supports and student opportunities.”

Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth have been teaming up for food service administration by sharing a director since 2015 when Cape Food Service Director Peter Esposito was hired to replace retiring Scarborough Food Service Director Judy Campbell.

“We already have a tried and proven partnership with Scarborough for food service. It’s been working well for both of us,” interim Cape Elizabeth Superintendent Howard Colter said.

While the application met the minimum criteria and has been cleared to proceed to the second part of the application process, the Department of Education did cite some concerns with the application, noting its membership and proposed programs/ services are similar to another regional service center nearby (in this case Sebago Alliance 2.0 and the Southern Maine Regional Service Center, a proposed partnership between school districts representing Biddeford, Dayton, Saco, Sanford, Yarmouth, Bonny Eagle, Kennebunk/ Kennebunkport/ Arundel, Marshwood, Sacopee Valley, Massabesic and Noble.

“The department does not intend to approve centers that are entirely duplicative in membership or services within a close geographic proximity, in keeping with the intent of reducing administrative redundancy.

The department encourages the applicant to investigate the feasibility of joining one of those effort,” The Department of Education wrote in response to Kukenberger’s application.

After receiving that feedback, Kukenberger said she and Colter met with Katie Hawes, their counterpart in Kennebunk about joining her effort to start the Southern Maine Regional Service Center.

“We want to make the application as strong as possible, so that is the interest in combining forces,” Kukenberger said.

Colter said while Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough went into this process looking into formalizing its food service partnership and potentially starting bulk purchasing for custodial supplies, other ideas for potential partnerships with Scarborough and the other schools may also be considered between now and April 15 when the second phase of the application is due, such as staff leadership development or possibly bus driver training.

“No idea is off the table. We aren’t going into this with an agenda,” Colter said.

Scarborough has also joined forces with neighboring school districts to potentially form another regional service center. Westbrook Superintendent Peter Lancia has submitted an application for Sebago Alliance 2.0, a potential regional service center made up of Bonny Eagle, Gorham, Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook and Windham.

The Sebago Alliance 2.0, if ultimately approved, would focus on improving school leadership, professional development and joint food service purchasing.

Kukenberger said the leadership academy would serve as “a pipeline for people vying to be a principal or superintendent.”

“We are super excited about it,” she said.

Like the Scarborough-Cape Alliance application, Sebago Alliance 2.0’s application was cleared to proceed to part two, yet the department of education had a worry about this one too.

“Members involved in this application are also pursuing additional regional center applications, which suggests there may be a context to examine whether there are opportunities to combine efforts for part II of the application,” the department wrote in response to Lancia.

Kukenberger said the superintendents of Sebago Alliance 2.0 were scheduled to meet Jan. 3 to discuss the potential of joining forces with the schools proposing the Southern Maine Regional Service Center. That proposed regional service center would focus on joint food service purchasing and custodial supplies/services.

School districts received $135 per pupil for system administration in 2017-2018. In 2018-2019, that number will be $92 per pupil unless a school district is part of a regional service center.

In that case the district would receive an additional $46 per pupil. In 2019-2020, school districts would receive $47 per pupil and an additional $94 if they are part of a regional service center. In 2020-2021, the per-pupil allotment would be determined by the Department of Education commissioner “based on statewide review of system administration costs of high-performing, efficient” school districts.

“There is a financial motivator here,” Colter said. “The state isn’t saying ‘let us hear your ideas.’ They are saying ‘if you don’t do something, you’ll be losing money.’ We don’t get much (state aid) now, so we don’t want to get even less.”

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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