NORTH ANSON — Michael Tracy begins work as the new superintendent in Regional School Unit 74 at an interesting time this summer. In a school district where cost-conscious residents decide school budgets by narrow margins, there is possible change afoot.

As he takes his new job in the district that consists of Anson, Embden, New Portland and Solon, Tracy said he has been meeting with officials from the Madison and Bingham school districts to study the possibility of forming an AOS — an alternative organizational structure.

“There’s the beginning of conversations about the Bingham school district and the Madison school district to begin having conversations about collaboration,” he said. “Some folks are using the word ‘AOS.'”

Unlike an RSU or a school administrative district, or SAD, which are the combination of two or more municipalities that pool their educational resources to educate all students, an AOS is a combination of two or more school administrative units joined together for the purpose of providing administrative and, sometimes, educational services, according to the Maine Department of Education website.

Tracy said a new focus in Maine regarding the state budget and state aid to education has been “School Management and Leadership Centers” in nine to 12 geographic areas around the state, which could include the Madison/Anson/Bingham area.

A Sept. 8 seminar is planned on budget bill reforms and developments in school law addressing changes in school organization and funding, to be held at the Augusta Civic Center. The leadership centers are intended to “regionalize a selected menu of education support services, including business and management functions, as well as direct education of students,” according to a letter to Tracy from the law firm Drummond Woodsum in Portland, which will co-sponsor the seminar with the Maine School Management Association.

Tracy said there was a joint meeting of the Anson, Madison and Bingham school boards July 31, with a minority of school board members present for an informal gathering.

What emerged from that meeting was a plan to have all three districts form an ad hoc committee to explore the notion of an AOS or a regional center. He said the AOS conversation looks at sharing one superintendent, one transportation director and one special education director, with no plans to close any schools.

Tracy said he would be willing to step into the single superintendent position if consolidation becomes a reality.

The student enrollment in the Anson district is about the same as that of Madison — about 670 students in kindergarten through grade 12. In the Bingham and Moscow district, where the proposed budget remains in limbo after two failed referendums, there are only about 200 students total.

“There has been no conversation about closing schools or uniting high schools,” Tracy said. “The committee will have two focal points. One is to improve experiences for kids; the other is to save taxpayer money. We’re not going to look to consolidate something that doesn’t improve things for kids or achieve tax savings.”

Virginia Rebar, the Bingham and Moscow superintendent, said some of the district board members have participated in the recent meeting, but it is too early to predict an outcome. She said the SAD 13 board was scheduled to meet Tuesday night to discuss a new budget and the consolidation idea.

“Everything is preliminary at this point, but I did give them information on an AOS,” Rebar said by phone Tuesday. “Everything is in the beginning stages in terms of looking into these opportunities and possibilities.”

Rebar said the districts will have to collect data before any decisions are made.

In Madison, Town Manager Tim Curtis said the Madison Board of Selectmen created and unanimously approved a resolution encouraging the school board to pursue the possibility of some kind of consolidation effort. He said the SAD 59 interim superintendent, Bonnie Levesque, is looking to retire soon, and it is a good time to take a closer look at cost sharing with other districts.

“I think the selectmen are all in favor of that, but this is a process that has to be done by the school board, and that ultimately has to come to the voters for ratification,” Curtis said.

Tracy, an Augusta native and former superintendent in Orono and at a public charter school in Southern California, was hired by the district July 1.

Tracy, 40, said he is a lifelong educator but had never been an administrator until about three years ago.

“I think I accidentally fell into this work,” he said. “I went out to Southern California a few years ago and took a position as an assistant superintendent at a public charter school — Temecula Preparatory School.”

He said he, his wife and their children moved back to Maine, where he took a job as interim superintendent in the Orono school district and worked for a year until the position opened in RSU 74 with the retirement of Superintendent Lyford Beverage.

“I fit in rural Maine,” he said. “It’s a good fit for me. I fit here.”

Tracy was a school principal in Dexter and at the Clinton Elementary School.

He now is working in a school district that finally passed a $10 million budget on the second try.

“I’m compelled to think that we’re going to bring a fiscally responsible budget to the taxpayers. That’s my pledge,” Tracy said, “but we’ll also meet the needs of the kids in the schools.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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