FAYETTE — Some residents are calling for Fayette Public Schools to leave Alternative Organizational Structure 97, saying it will give the town full control over its school with a minimal increase in costs.

After creating a committee earlier this year to study the issue, the Fayette School Committee asked selectmen to put the question of withdrawal on the Nov. 5 ballot. A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 21 at Fayette Central School.

If voters approve the measure, the School Committee will prepare a withdrawal plan that must then be approved by the school board, the education commissioner and Fayette voters. The process must be finished by May 1 for Fayette to leave the AOS next year.

AOS 97 consists of Fayette and Winthrop and formed in 2010. In an alternative organizational structure, each municipality has its own school board and budget and is represented on the school board, which oversees the central office for the combined district.

Joel Swimm, a member of the committee that studied withdrawal, was also on the committee that created AOS 97. He said Fayette joined only because it was under threat of losing $42,000 in state funding, and he argues that there’s no reason to remain in the AOS now that the penalties from the 2007 school consolidation law have been abolished.

Swimm said this push is not motivated by concerns about leadership or Winthrop’s schools, but rather by a structure that pairs Fayette with a very different school district that also holds most of the decision-making power.

Fayette Central School has 75 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade. The town pays tuition for its students to attend middle school and high school elsewhere, and most of them go to Maranacook schools in Readfield or Spruce Mountain schools in Jay, which Swimm said is based largely on location and tradition.

Winthrop Public Schools, meanwhile, has about 850 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade.

The AOS 97 school board has two representatives from Fayette and four from Winthrop, with weighted voting that gives Fayette 15.6 percent of the vote. Fayette pays for 15 percent of the budget, which pays for the superintendent, the business office and the special education director.

While representatives from the two towns have voted together on hiring and compensation, Swimm worries that if there ever were a conflict, Winthrop could simply overrule Fayette.

“They’re going to be able to hire who they want,” Swimm said. “They pay 85 percent of the bill. If 85 percent of your paycheck is coming from one place, that’s where your attention is going to be drawn to.”

The central office is in Winthrop, and Superintendent Gary Rosenthal acknowledged that he spends more time on Winthrop matters, especially considering the ongoing budget impasse between the Winthrop school board and Town Council this year.

Rosenthal said, however, that he gives Fayette at least 15 percent of his time, including at least one day a week at the school and attendance at events outside school hours.

Rosenthal said Fayette benefits from its partnership with Winthrop because they share professional development and some staff members, such as a guidance counselor and an art teacher.

Rosenthal also said he thinks Fayette would have to pay considerably more for administration or significantly reduce services.

Fayette’s share of the AOS budget is $57,752 this year, and Fayette’s withdrawal study committee has estimated that the town’s school board could cover those functions by spending a maximum of $62,925 next year, an increase of 9 percent.

That includes spending $13,200 to $14,850 for a superintendent to work 33 days: three days a month during the school year and one or two days a month in the summer.

In 2009-10, the year before joining AOS 97, Fayette spent $58,030 on system administration, according to state records.

Any withdrawal plan created by the Fayette School Committee would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the school board, meaning at least three of the Winthrop members would have to vote “yes.” Rosenthal said he does not believe the representatives of either town would stand in the way if one town wants to dissolve the structure.

After board approval, the plan would have to be reviewed by the state education commissioner before going back to Fayette voters. The final vote would have to happen 60 days before July 1 for the separation to happen next year.

The ability of Fayette students to attend Winthrop schools, as five do now, would not be affected if Fayette leaves the AOS.

Now that the penalty for non-consolidated school districts has been lifted, municipalities across the state are seeking withdrawal from their school districts, usually citing a desire for more local control. Many towns leaving regional school units are exploring alternative organizational structures as a preferable option, but Swimm said even the looser structure is not sufficient in Fayette.

Fayette previously withdrew from the former School Administrative District 36 in 1994, also because of a lack of local control. Fayette was swamped by Livermore and Livermore Falls, and Swimm said the SAD structure was even worse because there was only one school board and one budget.

Fayette Public Schools then operated as a standalone school district until 2010.

If Fayette leaves AOS 97, it will have the fourth-lowest enrollment among school districts that operate a school. The smallest of those, Isle Au Haut School, is a one-room schoolhouse that had four students last year.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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