BAR HARBOR — Rob Liebow, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) from 2004 to 2012, has been hired as a consultant to the school board committee that is exploring options for changing the way the system is structured.
His hiring is the latest development in the start-and-stop reorganization effort that began several years ago.
Here is the lead of a story from the April 14, 2017, edition of the Islander: “Changing, perhaps radically, the way the Mount Desert Island Regional School System is organized and operates will be studied by a committee of the school system board.
“Currently, each of the nine schools in the system has its own governing board and annual budget, as does the system itself. It was set up that way [in 2012] to give residents of each town in the system maximum control over their local schools. But Superintendent Howard Colter and other school officials say that organizational structure is unwieldy, inefficient and costs taxpayers more than if there was a single governing board and a single budget for all of the schools.”
Colter both preceded and followed Liebow as superintendent. He was succeeded by Mark Gousse in 2017.
From the Jan. 18, 2018, edition of the Islander: “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.
“Perhaps that should be considered sometime in the future, Superintendent Marc Gousse told the (school system) 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.”
Following a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school board revived the reorganization committee last year.
“We agreed that we have been making good progress, but we also agreed that it would be useful to have a consultant’s help,” school board and reorganization committee Chair Jessica Stewart said at last week’s board meeting. “We thought we needed someone who could have good relationships with staff and teachers, with the board, with parents and families and community members.”
Mike Zboray, who succeeded Gousse as superintendent in January, contacted Liebow and asked if he was interested in consulting. Liebow had retired as superintendent of schools in Rockport, Mass., at the end of June, at which time he became interim superintendent of the schools in Hancock and Lamoine. But he told Zboray he would be happy to consult. He will be paid $50 an hour for what is expected to be about 10 hours of work a week for the next few months.
Liebow told the Islander he will be helping the committee research and consider options for restructuring the school system.
“I think they want to be able to see and think about all the possible scenarios, and not necessarily what I might have in mind,” he said. “I will be helping with all the nuts and bolts of the process.”
As for coming back to Mount Desert Island, he said, ”It’s home; it’s always been home.”
Liebow said he was honored to be asked “to help make the best possible, equitable situation for the kids, who are the most precious resource that we have…to see that they all have the best shot at getting the best education.”
“If I can help them think through what might be a better structure, then I’d like to do that. It would be rewarding. It’s a school system I have always loved.”
One organizational structure that has been talked about for years as a possible option is the Regional School Unit (RSU) model. In an RSU, there is one school board for all the schools in the system, and that board adopts one budget that covers all the schools. Then a referendum is held in which voters in all the towns in the school district can vote to approve or reject the budget.
Whatever reorganization plan the school board committee ultimately proposes, it would have to be approved by voters in all nine towns in the MDIRSS school district. Liebow said part of his job will be to help explain the proposal to people in those communities.
Reorganization committee member Susan Allen said Liebow is uniquely qualified to do that.
“He is so entrenched in each individual community,” she said. “He knows every single person on this island and who their father was and where they went to school and what sport they played. I feel very comfortable having him helping us with this.”
Another reorganization committee member, Keri Hayes, said the committee definitely needed someone to help them and to lessen Zboray’s workload as superintendent.
“This is taking a lot of the heavy lifting off of Mike’s shoulders so he can focus on other things, and I think that’s really critical so that he does not get completely bogged down in this process,” she said. “It was beginning to look like he was going to have a ton of work to do, so having someone come in and help is essential.”