Maine's Struggle with Consolidation Law Continues

Last Updated: November 06, 2008

This article appeared in the November 2008 Rural Policy Matters.

The Maine Coalition to Save Schools filed a citizen initiated petition to repeal the state's school consolidation law in October. According to a press release, the group collected 61,142 certified signatures, over 6,000 more than the law requires to put a repeal measure to a statewide vote. The group hopes, however, that the state legislature will not wait for the ballot referendum and will use the petition as incentive to repeal the law in its next session.

The state's consolidation law enacted in 2007 required all districts with fewer than 2,500 student to choose other districts with which to merge.

But in the face of widespread opposition, legal confusion, inability of districts to agree on merger plans, and refusal of voters to approve local consolidations, almost no districts met the state-set consolidation deadline.

This year the legislature altered the law to allow districts to submit an Alternative Organization Structure (AOS).

The AOS is an option for school districts that, according to the Maine Department of Education website, "agree to function as a single school system that reports a single budget to the Department of Education, receives a single subsidy check, and has a common core curriculum and procedures for standardized testing and assessment."

Member districts keep local school boards and make local hiring decisions. Significantly, an AOS does not require local voter approval.

But in many places forced consolidation is still required by law, and local opposition continues to plague and disrupt many rural schools.

University of Maine education professor Gordon Donaldson has written an analysis of the consolidation debacle in Maine. Among other things he says the law requires "too much to do, too little time (and expertise) to do it," and that the "benefits are unclear or non-existent."

Read Dr. Donaldson's report at

Read more from the November 2008 Rural Policy Matters.