VASSALBORO — During its meeting Tuesday evening, the school board discussed the big changes the community school will be facing in the coming months and said it has ensured that it is ready for when those changes come to pass.

By the next academic year, Vassalboro Community School could be operating independently if Alternative Organizational Structure 92 is dissolved in a March 13 referendum, and it will have a new principal in charge after longtime educator Dianna Gram departs.

Gram has worked at the school for 23 years, first as the assistant principal and special education director, and then taking over the role of principal from Kevin Michaud in 2010.

The community’s deep engagement with the school has been a highlight of her time in Vassalboro, Gram said in an email Wednesday afternoon.

“(A) focus on building positive relationships and creating and nurturing a positive culture is much of what happens at VCS,” she said.

A search for Gram’s replacement already has begun. The nine-member committee has received at least six applications for the job so far, and each member will be reviewing the applications independently before March 1, which is when the committee plans to gather to discuss the candidates. The committee hopes to interview a few applicants on March 13 and 15 and have it narrowed down to one candidate by mid-March.

While the dissolution of the AOS is still up in the air, the board talked at length about what the school’s finances would be if the AOS is dissolved, as well as how the board could provide residents with the necessary information before the referendum vote.

Superintendent Eric Haley presented the board with the estimated cost for contracted services and the salary of a superintendent, should the school decide to hire one, which would replace the services that the school currently receives from the AOS.

The town is scheduled to pay a $340,670 assessment to the AOS for the 2018-19 school year. But if the AOS is dissolved, the school would save $45,650 by contracting some services and hiring a part-time superintendent.

A superintendent working at the school one day per week would cost $25,000; and contracted services, such as payroll, maintenance, transportation, technology, special services and the salary of a finance and curriculum director would cost the community about $270,020.

Additionally, Haley said Vassalboro would receive $51,841 from the AOS undesignated fund, which could be used to alleviate pressure on taxpayers.

The board also discussed a proposal to hire a consultant to help them through the possible dissolution process, which was an idea that came from a member of the community, but it was decided among the board that all of the heavy lifting to set up an independently run school already had been done. Chairman Kevin Levasseur concluded that a consultant was not necessary and funding to pay such a hire is nonexistent.

The original rationale for dissolving the AOS was that the communities could pursue the formation of a regional service center based in Waterville, which would handle some of the duties that a superintendent’s office does, such as payroll and accounts payable. The state presented the service center as a possible means for districts to receive funds from the state, but Haley said the state is not offering those incentives, so it is likely that the communities will not enter that arrangement in the coming academic year. However, Haley said the AOS has proven to be an untenable structuring for a district, and each community will save money if the AOS is dissolved.

The board then voted to hold a public forum to discuss what a possible end to the AOS would mean for the school and community. The Vassalboro meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 6, which is a week before the scheduled referendum.

Similar forums will take place in Winslow and Waterville on Feb. 26 and 27, respectively, at 7 p.m..

In other business, the board voted to support the pursuit of designating the school as a Red Cross disaster shelter. The designation as such would require five or six people from the town to be trained on how to maintain the shelter. Town officials are researching possible grant funding to acquire a generator, which also would be needed for the school to acuire shelter status.

The board cited the many people seeking water after the ice and wind storm left thousands without power for several days in October as a reason to support this pursuit.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg