BAR HARBOR — School administration would be less expensive and much more efficient if there was a single governing board and a single annual budget for all nine schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS).
Perhaps that should be considered sometime in the future, Superintendent Marc Gousse told the MDIRSS board last week, but he isn’t recommending it now because of how important local control is to residents of the towns that make up the school system.
However, he said there are ways to increase efficiencies without taking away that local control.
The MDIRSS is classified by the state as an alternative organizational structure (AOS), in which there are some centralized functions but each town has its own elementary school committee elected by the voters of the town. The committee oversees the operation of the school and presents the annual school budget for voter approval at town meeting.
Gousse said that while keeping that basic structure, it would make sense to look at making the AOS, not the individual schools, responsible for certain functions.
For example, he said, “Would it be wise to consider bringing custodial and maintenance under the umbrella of the AOS? Would it be wise to consider having the AOS as the employer for the ed techs and be able to move them [among the schools] to meet the needs of the children? Would it be wise to consider consolidation of food service for purchasing, professional development and menu planning?” Technology services and transportation are other possible functions that could be centralized, he said.
He recommended that the MDIRSS board hold a workshop or retreat to consider the “feasibility and potential implementation” of such efficiency measures within the present AOS structure.
Gousse also recommended exploring the advantages of centralized storage.
“We have things that are not utilized or are being stored in areas where they shouldn’t be,” he said. “That relates to safety and security.
“Also, if these things were purchased, they ought to be used. It would be great to consider some way that the schools within the AOS and the towns or nonprofits could use those items. We need to move things out of our schools that no longer have use or value.”
Gousse said he also would like the school board, within the next few years, to consider hiring a volunteer/community outreach coordinator to help match people in the community who would like to volunteer in the schools with the talents and expertise the schools need.
“There needs to be some professional development and basically a vetting process to make sure people know what we’re looking for and make sure we’re keeping kids safe, as well,” he said.
Gousse said the school system also needs a human resources director, whose services might be shared with area towns.
“There is a whole host of things that a human resources director or a person with that expertise could help us with and be a great resource for our employees,” he said. “I believe that need also exists in our towns, and that’s an example of something that could be shared with the towns.”
Looking farther ahead, Gousse told the MDIRSS board that it might be wise to at least consider switching from the AOS structure to a regional school unit (RSU), with a single board and single budget for all of the schools. He noted that, currently, the system’s business office has to handle 11 separate budgets – one for each of the nine schools, one for the central office and one for the high school trustees – and all of the associated reports and audits.
Even though such a change would be much more efficient and save money, Gousse acknowledged that those considerations seem to be less important to many residents than maintaining local oversight of their schools. He said that was clear from what people said in the community forums that were held over the past year as part of the schools’ long-range planning process and in comments that people posted online.
“For the lion’s share of people in the communities, the impact [of inefficiencies] on the budget doesn’t resonate with them,” he said. “People really feel that local control is important and that they get to determine the use of funds in their communities.”
Switching from the current AOS structure to an RSU would require the approval of voters in all eight MDIRSS towns.