After a narrow vote of approval at the Jefferson School Committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 1, the future of AOS 93’s shared programs has become a little more clear.
The Jefferson committee voted 3-2 in favor of signing a four-year contract running from July 1 through June 30, 2020 to participate in the district’s three shared programs.
With the vote, Jefferson joins Nobleboro, which agreed to enter the cooperative agreement in January, and South Bristol, which voted in favor of the matter on Feb. 2.
The Bristol School Committee, the final committee to vote on the matter, will decide on joining the shared programs on Feb. 3.
The pending shared programs agreement is made up of three distinct educational programs.
The Center for Alternative Learning, based in Nobleboro Central School, provides opportunities for students in grades in grades six through eight who have a learning style that may have caused them to struggle in a classroom setting.
The Pathways Education Center in Jefferson Village School teaches a life skills curriculum in addition to academic programs.
The Behavior Support Program, the newest of the shared programs, based out of Bristol Consolidated School, provides behavioral support in a student’s special education learning plan, in addition to working toward assisting the students toward academic success in the school system.
Superintendent Steve Bailey said that, though the contract is a four-year agreement, schools can opt out if they are unsatisfied with the cooperative program, provided they do so by Oct. 1 before the next fiscal year.
“Any of the parties may withdraw from this agreement effective at the end of any fiscal year provided that the withdrawing party gives written notice to all other parties in the agreement not later than Oct. 1 preceding the end of the fiscal year,” Bailey said.
According to Bailey, the changes in the shared programs are the result of a decision by Great Salt Bay Community School to provide special education programs in-house.
In past years GSB had utilized the programs at Nobleboro and Jefferson while also running the Alternative Classroom for Educational Services in Damariscotta.
Schools outside of GSB would pay tuition and associated costs for education technicians to send students to Damariscotta for the program.
However, prior to the start of the school year, the GSB committee made the decision to no longer participate in the AOS shared programs.
Due to this decision, the district moved to create a new program, the Behavior Support Program in Bristol, for AOS 93 schools looking to maintain participation in the shared programs initiative.
The decision in Jefferson was not without its detractors. School committee members Maria Solorzano and Forrest Bryant both expressed concerns with entering into the contract.
Solorzano said she was comfortable with joining the Pathways Educational Center, based in Jefferson, and the Center for Alternative Learning, based in Nobleboro, because those programs have been up and running and have proven to be successful investments.
However, she said she did not support entering a four-year contract with the Behavior Support Program, which will be based in Bristol, since the program is just starting out and is unproven.
“If we agree to a four-year contract, are we locked into something?” she said. “I want to just make sure it’s clear we are not locked in long term with something we are really not happy with.”
Bryant expressed concern about what would happen to Jefferson if other towns decide to back out.
“Probably my biggest concern is signing into a contract, and not so much us backing out, but what happens if the other parties back out?” Bryant said.
He also made clear he didn’t feel comfortable voting without knowing more information.
School committee member Al Vorhis described the program as an insurance policy that allows the school to avoid the high costs associated with sending a student out of district for educational programs.
“You have to keep the idea of an insurance policy in your mind,” Vorhis said.
JVS Principal Peter Gallace said the shared programs are not only an insurance policy to offset costs of sending a student out of the district, but are a way to ensure the participating schools have time to set up effective programs.
“Trying to put together a program at the last minute doesn’t work,” Gallace said.
School committee member Robert Westrich said adopting the contract as opposed to paying to send students to each program on an individual basis is a way to ensure students receive the education and support they need.
“If they could really benefit from a program, we don’t want to make money an issue,” Westrich said.
According to information provided by AOS 93, the cost for the Center for Alternative Learning would be $106,246.67 with Jefferson, Nobleboro, and Bristol each contributing an equal share of $35,415.56.
The cost for the Behavior Support Program would be $180,972.12 with Jefferson, Nobleboro, and Bristol contributing $51,706.61 each and South Bristol School paying $25,853.30.
Bailey explained South Bristol’s share of the cost is lower due to the relatively small size and low number of students at South Bristol compared to the other participating schools.
The Pathways Educational Center will cost $70,050.23, with Jefferson, Nobleboro, and Bristol contributing $20,014.35 and South Bristol contributing $10,007.18.
Bailey said these annual contributions are lower due to usage of local entitlement funds to offset 60 percent of the cost of Pathways.