The Maine Department of Education awarded about $3 million in grants Tuesday to seven school-based projects around the state aimed at increasing efficiencies between neighboring school districts.

There were a total of 21 applicants for what is being called the “Embrace” initiative.

Each project has a lead school administrative unit in addition to partner districts. Altogether, the seven projects represent 50 partnering entities, including nearby school districts, career and technical education centers and higher education institutions.

Grants were awarded to projects that best created new opportunities for students while reducing costs in areas like transportation, professional development and special education services.

Special education costs in particular have increased in recent years, making up a statewide average 15 percent of the budget, and transportation costs in large rural districts are also high because they cover long distances.

Gov. Paul LePage announced the initiative in January, making the grants available by directing leftover funds from the current fiscal year from $1 billion in general purpose aid earmarked for schools be redirected to an account set up in 2007 that provides funding for “regionalization, consolidation and efficiency.”

LePage is seeking $5 million a year in the biennial budget to fund additional proposals.

The department gave priority to projects that involved two or more districts, were tied to a career and technical education (CTE) center or region, included a “smaller” district with fewer than 1,200 students and had “significant and sustainable savings” that can be replicated by other districts.

The projects, the lead school district, and proposed grant amounts are:

– Western Maine Regional Program for Children with Exceptionalities, providing services to students in grades 6-12 with autism and/or emotional disabilities, and to other behaviorally challenged students; SAD 17 (Harrison, Hebron, Norway, Otisfield, Oxford, Paris, Waterford, West Paris); $314,500.

– Rightsizing Education in the Upper St. John Valley, regionalizing grades 9-12 into a regional combined high school/CTE center; SAD 27 (Eagle Lake, Fort Kent, New Canada, Saint Francis, Saint John Plantation, Wallagrass); $508,200.

– Service Bundling, bundling special education, psychological services, transportation, technology and facilities services; SAD 1/RSU 79 (Castle Hill, Chapman, Mapleton, Presque Isle, Westfield); $162,500.

– Southern Aroostook Area Regional Transportation Facility, centrally located bus garage for maintenance of the combined fleet of buses, vans and service vehicles. RSU 29 (Houlton, Hammond, Littleton, Monticello); $415,000.

– SPRCPCE Innovative School, funds supporting the creation of an alternative education school beginning with seventh- and eighth-graders, with plans to expand to grade 10. The school is designed for hands-on, experiential learning to motivate and prepare at-risk youth for successful integration into further learning opportunities at local career and technical education centers and in early college programs. Bangor School Department; $538,235.

– Sheepscot Regional Education Program, a single site for special education services for students in grades 6-12, through age 20, who need behavioral support; Wiscassett School Department; $518,000.

– Western Maine Mathematics 9-12/CTE Leadership Network, development of a high school mathematics coaching model to better meet the needs of grades 9-12 mathematics teachers and career and technical education teachers in western Maine; RSU 04 (Wales, Litchfield, Sabattus); $231,082.

A full list of the participating schools and entities is on the DOE website.

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