BAR HARBOR — The school committees in all the Mount Desert Island Regional School System towns are voting this month to take part in planning to replace the current school system structure with a regional school unit (RSU), which advocates say would be more equitable and efficient.
Superintendent Mike Zboray says it is an early step in a long process and doesn’t commit any school committee or town to supporting the creation of an RSU. In the RSU model, there is a single school board and a single annual budget that covers all the schools in the district.
The votes that the school committees are taking authorize their chairs to sign “a notice of intent to engage in planning and negotiations with other school administrative units for the purpose of developing a reorganization plan to form a regional school unit.”
A special committee that the school system board formed last year to look into reorganization options has recommended the creation of an RSU. But first, the school system towns must form a regional planning committee to come up with a detailed organizational plan for the schools. Then that plan would have to be voted on by citizens of all the school system towns.
“Once all the boards have signed the letter of intent, I will submit it with some documentation to the commissioner [of education] about why we want to form the unit,” Zboray said. “Then at that point we can start forming the regional planning committee.”
The notice of intent that the school committees are signing simply allows them to participate in forming that committee.
“It’s just to start this process, to begin talking, to have a seat at the table,” Zboray said.
The regional planning committee must consist of one school committee member from each town, one municipal officer and one at-large citizen of the town.
“We will work with the Teachers Association about having representation from teachers, as well,” Zboray said.
A page on the school system’s website says it wants to “reorganize its current structure from a collection of individual schools into a coherent and more equitable model to better serve our students and educators.”
It goes on to state that the goals of reorganization are: “To develop a system that would make excellence much more attainable and accessible to students no matter where in the district they live;
“Provide an opportunity for staff movement between schools without the loss of seniority and other earned benefits; and
“[To have] schools in which the administration can better focus its full attention on improving the quality of education rather than attending to a governance structure that is cumbersome, duplicative and increasingly difficult to provide.”
The idea of creating an RSU is expected to face opposition. as some community members want their town to retain as much control over their elementary school as possible.
All the school committees that have voted so far on the letter of intent to be involved in planning for an RSU have authorized their chair to sign it. But at least one school committee member has voted no. Cliff Noyes, a member of the Southwest Harbor School Committee, said he didn’t think they should even be talking about forming an RSU.
Zboray said that no reorganization plan would be going to voters anytime soon.
“It’s a long process,” he said. “I would see [the regional planning committee] probably meeting through next year, going through this process in a thoughtful manner. And we’ll see how we come out on the other side.”