Why the School District Consolidation Law Fails

The law has failed to produce the projected savings, and in many cases is costing taxpayers more money.
In 2007 the Maine Legislature was told that consolidation would save at least $36.5 million. That $36.5 million was not a guarantee of savings, but merely a cut in State aid to schools that was made in the 2008-2009 school year before any new districts were even formed.  There is nothing in the law that creates a savings and it won’t cost the state anything if the law is repealed.

The cost of unified employment contracts should have been a factor in determining the value of consolidation, but was ignored even though it will raise the cost of education substantially.  Individual school districts have come up with estimates, and collectively they approach $18 million statewide over three years. Donaldson: "Report Card" May 2009

Some towns discovered the effect of cost shifting after they had already consolidated, and now they can’t get out of the district they joined.  Pownal residents saw a 25% tax increase, and for Durham it was 19%. Alna residents' tax bills are up 33%, an average of $1,000 per taxpayer, according to the Wiscasset Newspaper on Sept. 24. Their share of education expenses for RSU 12 was around 70% higher than their cost of education in the previous year before consolidation.  An offset from surplus funds reduced the increase to 60%.

There’s a loss of eligibility for Federal funding programs, for example, RSU 24 will lose $600,000 to $1,000,000 in Federal money because they are now too large to qualify for this aid targeted toward smaller school districts.

Communities that voted against consolidation face $5 million in penalties next year for exercising their rights at the ballot box - an unethical practice in a democracy. These plans were voted down for the most part because their costs exceeded the penalty amounts. On the other hand, urban areas, with over 55% of Maine’s students are exempt from consolidating.

Loss of local control was an issue for voters who did not want to give up their local school boards and accept token representation in a larger district.

Loss of state aid is another unintended consequence. When the preliminary numbers were released in March 2009, state subsidy losses affected over half of the new districts; for six of them the loss ranges from over $500,000 up to over $750,000. Some of the decrease is due to increase in valuation and decrease in student population, but cost shifting is also a factor.

No one disputes the need to eliminate unnecessary and redundant administrative expenses in education, but the law that promised savings by mandating the formation of fewer, larger school districts has failed in achieving its goals. What Maine needs is informed decision making by the stakeholders, not bigger governmental units posing as school districts and throwing up obstacles to efficient operations.