WINSLOW — Administrators and school board members addressed town residents Monday evening explaining the reasons for — and the potential consequences of — the looming referendum that will decide whether Alternative Organizational Structure 92 will be dissolved and three separate and independent school systems will take its place.

“You’re probably all wondering, ‘Why did we form the AOS and nine years later decide to get out of it?'” Superintendent Eric Haley said to the roughly 30 residents in attendance at the Winslow Junior High auditorium.

In 2009, Haley said, the state Department of Education said school systems of fewer than 2,500 students that did not consolidate would face hefty financial penalties. The threat of penalty was great enough that the communities of Vassalboro, Waterville and Winslow consolidated as an AOS, which granted each community some independence by maintaining its own school board.

Over the past nine years, Haley said, they’ve learned that the governance structure of an AOS is untenable. The AOS relies heavily on a limited number of people, Haley said, and he is afraid of what would happen if those people, many of them now reaching retirement age, left the AOS.

“No one in their right mind would have structured school governance in this way,” he said. “There’s a small number of major players, and if they are pulled out, AOS 92 would collapse.”

Additionally, Haley said, the structure does not allow each community much oversight and attention from him and other administrators, which he believes they need and deserve.

If the AOS is dissolved, Winslow would have to hire its own superintendent, curriculum director, finance director, receptionist, instructional specialist and an assistant director of special services. The board already has offered the superintendent position with a salary and benefits package of $156,737 to Peter Thibotout, who is assistant superintendent of AOS 92.

The negative consequence of dissolving the district for Winslow, Haley said, is that the town would pay about $97,000 more a year than it does currently in the AOS. However, Haley argued, Winslow would have complete control over those new employees.

Joel Selwood, the school board’s chairman, said dissolving the AOS would allow the superintendent to spend more time with students and teachers, which is something Haley isn’t able to do regularly for all three communities.

“I stay awake at night thinking about that I don’t have time to give my principals and administrators help, assistance and supervision,” Haley said.

When Haley and the AOS board first discussed terminating the district, the state was offering financial incentives that would benefit the communities if they did dissolve the AOS and restructured as a regional service center.

It was believed initially that by restructuring as a service center, which would handle many of the administrative tasks of a superintendent’s office, the communities could receive up to $246 per student in state funding. However, the state has withdrawn its offer and would give schools only $46 per student to form service centers. Haley said the state has not provided enough information on how these centers would work for that money to be enough for the communities to pursue that process.

If the AOS is dissolved, the communities will continue to lean on one another financially through interlocal agreements that would allow the municipalities to contract with one another for other services such as payroll, transportation, maintenance, technology and special services.

Winslow also would receive $92,817 out of the $278,419 currently in the district’s undesignated fund, which can be used to lighten the load on taxpayers.

Waterville plans to hold a public hearing on the AOS referendum at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Waterville Senior High School’s media center. Vassalboro will hold its hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the community school.

The referendum vote will take place March 13. It will take only one community voting in the majority to dissolve the AOS.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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