FAYETTE — Anticipating formal state approval of its withdrawal plan, a committee is considering how Fayette would educate its children if the town leaves the school unit it shares with Winthrop.
The school board of Alternative Organizational Structure 97 recently approved Fayette’s plan to leave the AOS. The vote was 5-1, with the lone dissenting vote coming from Joe Pietroski, who represents Winthrop.
Fayette then submitted the plan to the Department of Education, and withdrawal committee chairman George Joseph said the group has received informal notice that the plan meets state requirements. Joseph expects to receive formal approval from Education Commissioner Jim Rier within a week or two.
The withdrawal plan deals mostly with finances, including a division of debts and assets between Fayette and Winthrop that follows the 15 percent-to-85 percent split that the towns have paid to fund the AOS budget. The AOS provides central administration for both towns, including the superintendent, the special education director and the business office.
The parts of the withdrawal plan dealing with education state that Fayette will continue to operate its town School Department much as it already does. The Fayette School Committee has responsibility for budget, curriculum, calendar and policies. Fayette Central School educates children in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, and for middle school and high school the town has tuition agreements with Winthrop, Readfield-based Regional School Unit 38, Livermore Falls-based RSU 73 and Kents Hill School.
Some things, however, haven’t been determined yet, Joseph said, and the withdrawal committee is looking for public input.
“Basically, we’ll continue to do the same things as we’ve done before,” Joseph said. “But administratively, how do we want to maintain the school? How’s it going to run? What’s the administrative structure going to look like?”
Fayette has operated as an stand-alone school district before, most recently from 1994 to 2010. Sometimes there was a principal and a part-time superintendent, and at other times one person filled both roles.
The withdrawal committee is gathering input about the administrative structure with a survey that’s posted on the Fayette town website.
The survey also includes questions about satisfaction with Fayette Central School, things the school is doing well, areas for improvement and how well the school is preparing students for middle and high school.
Withdrawal committee members also have met with school staff members to hear their thoughts, and they’re likely to host a public meeting sometime in March to gather more feedback.
Joseph said the withdrawal committee wants to get a sense of what Fayette residents envision for the education of the town’s children and use that to make recommendations to the School Committee about administrative structure and other matters.
Once the School Committee makes decisions, estimates can be made of how much it will cost Fayette to replace the services now provided by the AOS.
The withdrawal will not be final unless approved by voters in a public referendum, which is likely to take place in late April, because state law requires it to occur at least 60 days before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
AOS 97 Superintendent Gary Rosenthal said the AOS also will make cost estimates, but otherwise there’s nothing for the AOS to do about withdrawal now that the school board has turned the decision over to Fayette voters.
Rosenthal said he expects the vote will come down to financial considerations. Because of the town’s high property valuation, Fayette receives very little state aid for education — less than $40,000, out of $1.3 million deemed necessary by the state’s funding formula.
“Just about anything that they do has to be financed at the local level,” Rosenthal said. “Given that, the conversation centers around what the increased costs might be and whether they’re palatable to citizens in the community.”