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Article - Creating the new Sebago SAU
Creating the new Sebago School Administrative Unit
Allen Crabtree

Remember the old joke about dog who was always chasing cars?  Then one day he caught one and didn’t know what to do with it!

Sebago voters have been working for two years to withdraw from MSAD61, but unlike the dog in the joke, they knew exactly what they were doing and are now heavily involved in creating a brand new Sebago School Administrative Unit (SAU).  

In the November 7, 2017 Referendum Sebago voters overwhelmingly approved the withdrawal agreement negotiated with MSAD61 that would keep Sebago Elementary School from being closed and allow Sebago to insure a top-quality education for their children.  Sebago had joined MSAD61 in 1966.  Leaving it to create a new SAU will allow Sebago to run its own elementary school as the town used to before joining MSAD61 while also tuitioning older students to middle and high schools of parents’ choice.

Creating a new Sebago SAU

In order to be ready to open Sebago Elementary School in September 2018 there are a number of things that need to be done to set up the SAU.  Dr. Mark Eastman is Sebago’s educational consultant and veteran of many similar successful efforts of small Maine towns to withdraw from their school districts and set up their own school system.  (In the past several years there have been at least 24 of them.)

He noted that: “The communities who are successful in withdrawing soon find themselves in an environment where they are on their own with little guidance from the Maine Department of Education (DOE) and support from their former school unit.”  He added: “The path Sebago is now embarked on to create a new SAU will require much work, but it is very doable,” and: “Sebago has many advantages going for it, including smart and enthusiastic students, dedicated, experienced teachers and staff, an active and strong parent participation, a solid school building, and most importantly, the strong backing of Sebago tax payers and voters.”

The first steps include electing a new Sebago School Board.  Three members will be elected at a February 27 referendum, and Sebago voters will also be asked then to approve expanding the three-member board to five, with two additional members being elected at the June 2018 Town Meeting.
One of the first things that the new School Board will do is to recruit and hire a part-time Superintendent.  The Board must also establish the policies, procedures, contracts and staffing by July 2018 for school to open in September.

Citizen Advisory Committees are key

The 100-odd steps involved in creating a new SAU seem daunting at first.  Everything that has been handled by or through MSAD61 would now be the town’s responsibility.  Details will have to be worked out, contracts negotiated and supplies and personnel on board when school opens.  How will student transportation be handled – will Sebago hire bus drivers or contract for them?  How and where will maintenance of the vehicles be done?  What company will help with data collection for various government agencies, what policies should be adapted, which vendors will be needed for phones, copiers, plumbing, etc.?  Will programs, such as Pre-Kindergarten, be added at Sebago Elementary?

More than sixty people turned out for a January 11 Sebago community meeting to discuss “where do we go from here now that we have withdrawn from MSAD61?”  Sebago citizens will play a pivotal role in answering these questions and creating the new SAU.  There was a strong and positive response to help as people joined one of six Advisory Committees including: Policies and Procedures, Finance, Educational Programming, Staffing and Administration, Operations, and Technology.

In the last month the Advisory Committees have been meeting regularly and are making positive progress.  Here is what they are doing to help get the new SAU up and running:

Policies and Procedures Team is preparing recommendations for a set of policies and procedures as well as a parent/student handbook and school calendar. The Team is reviewing the current MSAD61 policies as well as with other newly formed Maine School districts and will prioritize the policies to be enacted.  At some point in the future the Team will also recommend procedures for emergency closure and develop an emergency response plan.

Finance Team is working to develop a recommended annual budget to run the SAU, recommend who will handle educational accounting and payroll services, identify transitional funding and banking services, set up vendor lists, establish service accounts, develop and bid insurance needs and obtain software systems.  The Team has also prepared a suggested school budget validation time line.

Educational Programming Team has surveyed teachers and parents about the existing curriculum and its implementation. With the teachers' support, the Team is developing curriculum goals for the school board to move towards an appropriate, rigorous, relevant, and engaging curriculum for the kids of Sebago.

Staffing and Administration Team has contacted many of the other small schools in the State that have successfully withdrawn to learn from their experiences, their administrative structure, and how their positions and hierarchy are working for them. The Team is looking at various administrative models to determine which ones may be best for Sebago and is reviewing state requirements on PreK program and other programs including nursing regulations.  In addition, the Team will identify services that can be shared with neighboring districts, identify dual certified personnel positions, identify teachers and staff who will continue with the new SAU, address local recertification and establish a secure filing system.  In future work the Team will also arrange for certification/background checks to be done, issue employment contracts, and develop a parent reporting system.

Operations Team is looking at Sebago’s student transportation needs (maintaining our own buses vs. contracting with a private company or another nearby district) and will develop a transportation plan.  They will also develop a food service program including incorporating more local food sources and determine the immediate and long-term building maintenance and custodial needs for the school.~ They will also develop public safety plans and procedures.

Technology Team is reviewing technology needs for the new SAU and is contacting a list of vendors.  The Team will recommend technology systems and at some point in the future will create an SAU website, create assessment databases, and recommend training videos for teachers.

Sebago Advisory Committee member Claudia Lowe summed up the work of the Teams: “The goal is to gather as much information as possible to help the new School Board members with the many tasks and decisions they need to make to successfully transition to the new SAU.”

A Very Tight Time Line

The recommendations of the Transition Teams will be presented to the new School Board once it is elected, and to the new Superintendent when one is hired.  Everything is on a very tight time line in order to open the school in September 2018.  By July 2018 the School Board must adopt policies and procedures, enter into vendor and staffing contracts, and recommend an operating budget for approval by Sebago voters.  

The proposed SAU budget will be presented to Sebago voters at a School Budget Public Hearing on about April 24, 2018 where voters will have a chance to ask questions about the budget and the progress of creating the new SAU.  Sebago voters will then vote at a separate referendum on an article “Do you favor approving the Sebago SAU budget for the upcoming school year that was adopted at the latest Sebago SAU budget meeting?”  This referendum will be held on June 12, 2018.