Education

Education

Education

The Education Workgroup was tasked with considering and making recommendations on education functions, including the establishment of a “vision” for how a consolidated school department could be structured and what it could deliver to the Lewiston-Auburn community. It focused at two levels: Structural, in order to inform a “vision” for what a combined school department could achieve and provide to the community, and Financial, to identify the primary areas where merger had the greatest potential to enable cost efficiencies. The workgroup did not make specific recommendations to classroom-level changes or pedagogy. Those details and decisions would be the responsibility of the combined department’s superintendent and school committee.

The structural consideration involved a review of options for how a school department would, in the workgroup’s view, be best structured in a consolidated framework. Through informed consideration of data, current approaches in the two departments and the Lewiston-Auburn community context, the workgroup sought to make a recommendation on a “preferred alternative” it believed makes the most sense in the event the cities of Lewiston and Auburn combine. The workgroup’s consideration was focused on the following structural elements:


·       Board of Education

·       Central Administration

·       Curriculum and Instruction

·       Pre-K

·       ELL / Bilingual / Dual Language Education

·       Students with Disabilities

·       Career and Technical Education

·       Gifted and Talented Education

·       Leadership Development

·       Teacher Development

·       School-Based Health Centers

·       Newcomer Services

·       Adult Education and Workforce Development

·       Community Partnerships

·       Parent and Family Engagement

·       College / Post-Secondary Aspirations and Preparedness


For each element, the workgroup’s goal was intentionally at a conceptual rather than management level. That is, to develop a high level overview of what a combined department should be focused on – and what it could be for the Lewiston-Auburn community – while recognizing that the ultimate decisions on structure, management, curricula, assessment, services and programming would be the responsibility of the new School Committee and Superintendent, in partnership with other key stakeholders. That determination was made in the context of data collected and presented in the May 2016 Baseline Services and Financial Overview report, consideration of current differences (both perceived and real) between the two school departments, and perceptions on the preferences of Lewiston and Auburn residents.

A workgroup “vision statement”

In an effort to articulate what it saw as the promise and opportunity of a combined school department, as well as to frame its recommendations, the Education Workgroup developed a “vision” for a first-rate education system for Pre-K through secondary education and beyond. It speaks to the potential opportunities and benefits the workgroup sees in a single school department, and it emphasizes certain key guiding principles it believes should be at the core of any transition to a combined department.

As noted, the workgroup did not make specific recommendations to classroom-level changes or pedagogy. Those details and decisions would be the responsibility of the combined department’s superintendent and school committee.

A Vision for Improving Education in L-A

A unified school system offers a unique opportunity for innovation and reinvention. LA schools can be – and must be – among the best in Maine and the best for each student’s individual needs.

While bigger is not necessarily better, some opportunities require the scale of a larger student body and a deeper, diverse pool of teaching talent.

Respecting Traditions

Regardless of how things might change, alma maters will be preserved. Students can still attend the high school they – and their parents – identify with. There will still be Blue Devils and Red Eddies. Tradition and rivalries will continue.

Focus on Individual Student Needs

For a bigger LA district to be truly excellent, the new system has to be designed to be student-centered and focused on personalized learning. A larger system can offer dramatically more choices for students at all levels. There can be more options offered to students’ varying interests, especially since we have the geographical advantage of the schools all being close to each other. Smaller systems often do not have the student population to serve student interests, spark enthusiasm for learning, and motivate students toward high aspirations.

The middle schools and high schools can focus on themes and specialized areas. For example, one high school could emphasize advanced placement and bridge courses while the other could expand course offerings and available seats for Career and Technical Education (CTE) curricula. At the high school level, that might even mean taking some classes at Lewiston High School and some classes at Edward Little High School, blending the offerings of both and offering a personalized learning experience. It could include having a school strong in the visual and performing arts, another project-based, or another focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Broader scale affords us opportunities for unique, attractive and intellectually-stimulating specialization alongside excellence in our general education areas.

There will likely be a new Edward Little High School built within the next 5 years. This is an opportunity to configure that building so that it supports the needs and opportunities we envision – and the objective of making our system the best in Maine.

Each student is an individual who learns best when challenged and motivated by subjects he or she is interested in and with instructional practices tailored to their learning styles, like applied or experiential learning. The aim would be to expand the number of choices and pathways for each student.

Local School Leadership

For personalized learning to be maximized more authority and decision making needs to reside with the leadership and faculty of each school. Ideally, the district leadership (i.e. superintendent) sets the vision, but then strong school leaders apply that vision to each unique circumstance.

Expanding Best Practices

Best practices currently employed in Lewiston and Auburn can be expanded across the entire system.

Special Needs Insourced

A larger district allows more options for serving students with disabilities in-district, potentially reducing the number of students who must currently go out-of-district at a an average cost of $45,000 and for as much as $100,000 or more.

Additional Revenue Sources

A larger district has the potential to attract new revenue streams, such as federal, state and private competitive grants. In fact, a large district could likely afford to have a Development Office that would be the face to foundations and alumni. That “face” would promote the district and education “brand,” telling the story of LA schools similar to how private schools do today.

A Development Office has the potential to over time generate annual revenue that would cover unfunded needs. This could amount to $250,000 to $500,000 or more beyond the cost of the staffing.

Efficiencies Would Free Up Resources for Education

Scale, particularly at the size of a combined school department, would allow for operational efficiencies that free resources for teaching and learning. Consider how transportation, food service, buildings / facilities and administration could be streamlined in a larger system.

Enrollment Stability

In general, school enrollments are declining in Maine – and with that comes declining state reimbursement. A larger district would help to stabilize enrollments and offer the flexibility to shift resources to changing needs.

Aspirations

Directionally, here is where we (i.e. the workgroup) want to go. Some of these elements can best be accomplished within a larger school district.

·       Reach out to the parents of newborns saying, “We welcome your new child and look forward to having him / her join us in 4 years. Here is what you need to know to get him / her ready.”

·       Education, whether public or private, starts for all children beginning at age 4.

·       All-day kindergarten for all children.

·       All kids on reading level by grade 3.

·       Aspiration labs at the middle schools.

·       Increased summer learning opportunities.

·       A large system offers more opportunities for after-school groups and activities.

·       Increased CTE options and increased options for helping college-bound students.

·       Increased adult education for both workforce readiness and enrichment.

·       More time for principals and teachers to go into homes or meet with groups outside of the school building (i.e. deeper engagement with the community).

·       Top-to-bottom leadership development.

In short, a combined school system would respect traditions, but would offer more education choices and a more personal approach to learning. Merging systems invites the sort of innovation that is difficult, if not impossible within the current status quo.

Summary of Options and Recommendations

As part of the Education Workgroup’s review of possibilities for a combined school department, it made recommendations on each of the structural elements cited earlier in this section. Those recommendations were based on the workgroup’s understanding of current approaches in Lewiston and Auburn, discussion of where key differences and / or opportunities may exist, and consideration of community expectations for a “best in class” education department. Those recommendations and their rationale are presented below, by category.

School Enrollment and Buildings

The Education Workgroup recommends that in the event of consolidation, the current physical deployment of existing schools remain and that students remain in the school building where they are currently enrolled (or would otherwise be moving into regardless of consolidation). This approach will minimize the impact on students and families; retain consistency and school building familiarity for students and families; and empower the newly elected school committee for the consolidated department to intentionally and diligently plan for the future from a position of stability and strength. As noted below, that planning process will likely include streamlining of curricula across all the schools of the consolidated district, developing themes and / or specialized areas at the middle and high school levels, and exploring opportunities to expand programmatic choices and enhance personalized learning options.

Governance

Board of Education

As with the city councils, the current Auburn and Lewiston School Committees would continue to function in their current roles. The structure would change on the effective date of the city consolidation, currently envisioned as January 1, 2020. Currently, Auburn has seven school committee members, with one elected from each ward and two elected at-large. The Mayor or a mayoral designee is also on the committee. Lewiston has nine school committee members – one from each ward and one at-large, plus a city councilor nominated by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council.

Composition: Pursuant to Article 11 of the draft charter developed by the Joint Charter Commission, the school committee’s structure would mirror that of the proposed city council. There would be 2 persons elected from each of five wards with staggered terms, plus an eleventh member drawn from the City Council, as nominated by the Mayor and approved by the Council. Further, there would be at least one non-voting student representative, with the school committee determining the specifics of appointment and participation thereof.

Transition Period: The Education Workgroup acknowledged that during any pre-merger transition period, the governance requirements and responsibilities of both school departments would still need to be sustained. In addition to carrying out their normal governance responsibilities, it would be incumbent on both school committees to begin planning for conversion to a single unified department. For this reason, the Education Workgroup emphasized the benefit of having a “transition group” to facilitate the process – whether the two existing school committees meeting in joint fashion or both committees appointing two or more representatives to serve as an ad hoc transition group.

Central Administration

As is the case with the school committee, during the pre-consolidation transition period it would be essential to sustain current central administration functions and capacity. The workgroup recommends that current superintendents and administrative structures remain in place during the transition period. The appointment of the consolidated department’s permanent superintendent would be the prerogative and responsibility of the consolidated school committee, which would be elected during the pre-merger transition year. With that in mind, the Education Workgroup suggests that the joint transition group consider how best to work with existing leadership so that planning and decision making leads to an effective hand-off on January 1, 2020.

At the same time, the Education Workgroup recommends the joint transition group begin a study to review potential administrative reorganization during the transition period, and once a permanent superintendent is appointed work with that individual to implement any such reorganization.

This implementation pathway, beginning with an affirmative referendum and stretching through an assumed transition year for the two cities, is illustrated in the following graphic:

 


 

Teaching and Learning

The Education Workgroup makes the following recommendations.

Education

General Education

The new superintendent collaborate with teacher leaders, community members and student representatives to solidify existing offerings and to build a long-term plan to evolve curricula across all schools.

Pre-Kindergarten

Pre-K is offered to all children beginning at age 4.

ELL / Bilingual / Dual Language Education

Ensure ELL programs, including newcomer services, are available to all who need them.

Students with Disabilities

Expand special education programs for all who require it.

Career and Technical Education

Expand CTE programs and seats for LA students, including offering satellite offerings.

Gifted and Talented Education

Study best practices and expand offerings to increase program access.

Post-Secondary Aspirations

Expand programs, including offering post-secondary classes, to prepare students for post-high school education.

Adult Education and Workforce Development

Expand work readiness and enrichment offerings, making them available to all LA residents.

Educators

Leadership Development

Quality education requires developing leadership skills at all levels throughout the district.

Professional Development

Provide instruction within and outside of the regular school day, and encourage staff collaboration.

Student and Family Support

Health

Using external vendors, keep current school-based health centers intact.

External Partnerships

Inventory and expand partnerships with businesses and non-profits to help guide students to relevant college and career pathways.

Family Engagement

Encourage and expand involvement at schools and off site.

Summary of Financial Opportunities

As part of the Education Workgroup’s review of possibilities for a combined school department, CGR considered the potential for financial and programmatic efficiencies. The review began at the highest level, with a comparison of like-category expenditure articles from Lewiston and Auburn’s respective FYE 2016 budgets. That cost center alignment, which was also included in the May 2016 Baseline Services and Financial Overview report, is shown in the following table.

 

Budgeted School Expenditures by Cost Center, Fiscal Year 2016

Source: Approved School Budgets

   

 

 

 

 

 

         
   

Lewiston

Auburn

Total

         

Regular Instruction

 

$22,545,416

$15,538,599

$38,084,015

Special Education

 

$17,081,192

$8,721,607

$25,802,799

Career Tech Education

$3,009,044

$0

$3,009,044

Other Instruction

 

$771,472

$817,718

$1,589,190

Student and Staff Support

$3,717,480

$4,457,716

$8,175,196

System Administration

$1,208,436

$875,684

$2,084,120

School Administration

$2,632,106

$1,320,888

$3,952,994

Transportation and Buses

$3,320,638

$1,147,905

$4,468,543

Facilities Maintenance

$6,412,196

$5,260,417

$11,672,613

Debt Service and Other

$3,311,730

$1,128,505

$4,456,235

Crossing Guides

 

$16,000

$37,603

$53,603

Adult Education

 

$677,122

$382,955

$1,060,077

Total

 

$64,702,832

$39,689,597

$104,392,429

 

 

 

 

 

 

When general expenditures are viewed on a per pupil basis, as shown in the following table, there are areas of both alignment between the two departments (e.g. regular instruction, system administration) and divergence (e.g. student and staff support, transportation and buses).

 

 

Per Pupil Budgeted School Expenditures by Cost Center, Fiscal Year 2016

Source: Approved School Budgets, CGR Calculations

 

 

 

 

 

         
   

Lewiston

Auburn

Composite

         

Regular Instruction

 

$4,143

$4,296

$4,204

Special Education

 

$3,139

$2,411

$2,848

Career Tech Education

n/a

n/a

n/a

Other Instruction

 

$142

$226

$175

Student and Staff Support

$683

$1,232

$902

System Administration

$222

$242

$230

School Administration

$484

$365

$436

Transportation and Buses

$610

$317

$493

Facilities Maintenance

$1,178

$1,454

$1,289

Debt Service and Other

$609

$312

$490

Crossing Guides

 

$3

$10

$6

Adult Education

 

n/a

n/a

n/a

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Calculations use school-age total enrollment (PK-12) as denominator.

 

 

 

 

 



As noted, in certain expenditure articles per pupil costs are similar, while in others there are considerable differences. In order to quantify the extent of the difference between per pupil costs in Lewiston and Auburn, the Education Workgroup reviewed a hypothetical “lowest unit cost” analysis prepared by CGR in which an assumed combined school department had the lower of Lewiston or Auburn’s current per pupil cost in each expense category. The magnitude of that differential was $10.6 million, or the equivalent of about 10 percent of the current combined spend of the two departments.

In the event of consolidation, however, not all cost categories will offer the same degree of efficiency opportunity. For example, there would likely be direct savings as the school departments went from two administrative frameworks to one. On the other hand, there would not be direct savings on previously-issued debt for which principal and interest obligations would remain unchanged.

In an effort to categorize savings opportunities, then, CGR separated the expenditure articles into two “buckets”: First, those categories where consolidation had the potential provide direct and near-term savings, and second, those categories that had the potential to provide indirect and / or out-year (i.e. longer range) savings. Each category is discussed in further detail below.

Direct and Near-Term Opportunities

Building-Level

As noted above in the “Summary of Options and Recommendations: School Enrollment and Buildings” section, the Education Workgroup recommended that students initially remain in the school building where they are currently enrolled (or would otherwise be moving to regardless of consolidation). To the extent that the current deployment of school facilities remains unchanged and students are not shifted, the near-term impact on building level spending in a combined school department is likely to be minimal. The number of building-based administrators, teaching staff and support personnel would likely remain unchanged, as would the supply, utility and maintenance costs associated with those buildings.

This is not to imply that a combined school department could / would not eventually realize efficiencies and savings at a building level due to consolidation. Rather, it is to say that while a consolidated department may offer certain opportunities to streamline at the building level, those opportunities are likely to be marginal at first and not materially impact overall spending levels.

System-Level

However, there are direct and near-term opportunities to materially reduce costs at the system level. Thinking of Lewiston and Auburn as a single school department does enable certain savings opportunities, particularly in the areas of administrative services and “back office” support functions that are currently provided on a district-wide basis by both departments independently.

By way of context, Lewiston and Auburn budgeted a combined $2.1 million (or $230 per pupil) on system administration functions in FYE 2016. A review of both departmental budgets shows that the system administration function spanned the following:

·       School Committee

·       Legal Services

·       Superintendent

·       Superintendent Secretary

·       Human Resource Services

·       Fiscal Services

·       Printing and Binding

·       Postage and Advertising

·       Tuition Reimbursement

·       Software

Based on a review of these categories, CGR finds the greatest likelihood of efficiency savings from a consolidated school department would occur in the following areas.

General Administration

CGR estimates that a combined school department has the potential to produce approximately $310,000 in general administration savings, primarily resulting from the consolidation of two superintendent offices into one. Savings estimates are based on the assumption that a combined department would eliminate one superintendent position and up to one full-time clerical support title in the superintendent’s office. Although the salary level for superintendent of a combined department may increase and reduce this savings figure somewhat, for estimation purposes we use current levels.

Financial Administration and Human Resources

CGR estimates that combining the currently separate financial administration and HR offices in Lewiston and Auburn within a consolidated school department has the potential to produce approximately $115,000 in savings. Savings estimates are based on the assumption that a combined department would eliminate one finance / business officer position and downgrade or eliminate up to one title among the general finance support staff.

Information Technology and MIS

CGR estimates that a combined information technology arm serving a consolidated school department has the potential to produce approximately $20,000 in savings. It should be noted that this estimate pertains only to the system-wide level, rather than the individual school buildings, where (as noted above) we have assumed no immediate change. CGR did not perform a detailed review of current hardware / software in either department to gauge consistency, but to the extent there are material differences between the departments today, the realization of these savings may be delayed somewhat and grow only as the consolidated school department replaces aging hardware / software with newer products. To the extent possible, consistency of hardware / software across all buildings of a combined school department would maximize the potential savings. Savings estimates are based on the assumption that the full combined IT staff capacity would be retained, but that one of the current MIS manager titles could be downgraded to a tech support title.

School Committee

CGR estimates that the combination of school committees into a single department would generate approximate savings of up to $10,000. This is primarily due to the reduction in the overall number of school committee members.

Summary of System-Level Savings

General Administration

$310,000

Financial Administration & HR

$115,000

Information Technology

$20,000

School Committee

$10,000

Annual Recurring Savings

$455,000

 

 

 

     


Indirect and / or Out-Year Opportunities

Beyond the system-level savings shown above, a combined school department also offers potential long-range cost reductions in several areas. Below we consider three: Special Education, Transportation and Capital. In each case, the opportunity is contextualized to consolidation. However, precise savings figures cannot be determined at the present time. In the case of special education, savings would be predicated on further detailed analysis post-consolidation at an individual student and program level. In the case of transportation, current vendor contracts run through 2021; moreover, adopting the lower-cost model of the two departments would require a multi-year up-front capital investment. And in the case of capital equipment, potential savings is likely to be in the form of cost avoidance rather than direct cost reduction. Still, each category offers potential in the event of merger.

Special Education

Like every school district, a segment of the student population in both departments requires additional – and in some cases, intensive – services to address learning and / or other disabilities. The needs of special education students vary widely, from low-intensity supplemental services provided in-district, to high-intensity offerings requiring supplemental staffing and specialized settings, including classrooms with significantly lower student-to-teacher ratios. These varying needs result in more tailored programs and services that result in higher per pupil costs than associated with non-special education students.

Special education was the second-largest cost center in both Lewiston and Auburn in 2016, after regular instruction. Lewiston budgeted $17.1 million (26 percent of the total), while Auburn budgeted $8.7 million (22 percent). The SPED classification rates are identical between the districts, with Lewiston reporting 902 students (17 percent of the total student body) and Auburn reporting 620 students (17 percent).

In certain cases, the needs of special education students are so specialized that the “home” district cannot provide them adequately, resulting in students receiving an “out of district” placement. Although Lewiston and Auburn provide in-district services to the vast majority of their respective SPED student population, a portion of the special education population in both districts have been determined to require a more intensive setting and / or higher level of therapeutic services than can be provided within either district.

As of September 2016, Lewiston reported 131 out-of-district placements among its SPED population, while Auburn reported 43. Between the two departments, out-of-district placements spanned eleven separate locations, and of the total combined student count, 141 (or 81 percent) attended common schools. The most highly-enrolled program for both departments is the Margaret Murphy Center for Children, which specializes in autism and developmental disabilities. Nearly one-third of Lewiston’s out-of-district placements attend MMCC, while more than half of Auburn’s do. In total, MMCC provides programming for 68 students, or 39 percent of the combined Lewiston-Auburn out-placement population.

The following table illustrates the out-of-district enrollment for both districts as of September 2016. As noted, 141 students (or 81 percent of the total OOD enrollment) attend common schools.

 

Lewiston
Students

Auburn
Students

COMBINED
STUDENTS

Approx Tuition per Student

 

 

Out of District Placements w/ BOTH Lewiston and Auburn Students

 

Margaret Murphy Center for Children

43

25

68

$45,000

Spurwink

18

3

21

$53,000

Renaissance School

14

7

21

$40,000

Androscoggin Learning & Transition Center

13

3

16

$39,000

Collaborative School

5

3

8

$45,000

Future Builders School

4

1

5

$35,000

Morrison Center

1

1

2

$84,000

 

 

Out of District Placements w/ ONLY Lewiston Students

 

RETC (*Based in Auburn Schools)

9

-

9

$34,000

MECDHH / Baxter

3

-

3

n/a

REAL

2

-

2

$43,000

Easter Seals

1

-

1

$60,000


Of the combined $25.8 million budgeted by Lewiston and Auburn for special education in FYE 2016, approximately $6.8 million (26 percent) was for tuition related to out-of-district placements and programming. Further, there is a cost associated with providing transportation services to Lewiston and Auburn students with out-of-district placements. The departments’ combined OOD transportation cost in FYE 2016 was approximately $834,000.

As Lewiston and Auburn consider consolidation, there may be potential opportunities related to special education. To understand how those opportunities could materialize, it is important to understand why school departments utilize out-of-district placements. It is typically done for two, not necessarily mutually exclusive reasons. First, the intensity of required programming and services. For a segment of the special education student population, the level of specialized programming and / or therapeutic services required to address the needs of an individual student surpass the department’s ability to deliver them directly. As noted, a significant majority of the SPED students in both departments are educated in-district already; only those requiring more intensive supports beyond the departments’ capacity to address receive out-of-district placements.

Related, the number of students requiring a given SPED specialty varies from year to year. Utilizing outside services enables the school systems to service the need flexibly – and avoid a large fixed cost of gearing up to provide a service only to find the need has changed.

Second is the issue of delivering specialized services at scale. As noted in the preceding table, Lewiston and Auburn utilize a total of 11 separate programs for their out-of-district placements. This reflects both the specialized needs of individual students and the specialized programming offered by different sites. Although the quality of the programming provided to students is a critically important consideration, so too are the economics of providing such programming at smaller scale. And in all but one of the current placements used by Lewiston and Auburn for out-of-district programming, each district has fewer than 20 of its own students enrolled. Simply put, it is cost prohibitive for either school department to establish, staff and program a highly-intensive specialized program in-district for a small number of students. For that reason, the departments opt for out-of-district programs that a) have the specialized expertise already and b) provide services at scale for multiple districts, making them more cost-effective.

Consolidation may offer a single school department scale opportunities to deliver certain specialized and / or intensive services in-district rather than having to rely on out-of-district placement. Where one department on its own may only have the equivalent of a half-classroom of students requiring certain services, a combined department may have the equivalent of a full-classroom (or more), creating the opportunity to hire appropriately trained and specialized staff to deliver the services in-district.

Of course, cost reductions cannot and should not be the primary objective – the programming and services required by students are paramount. And in no cases would we expect a school department – consolidated or otherwise – to seek to implement sub-quality programming for special education students simply to lower costs. However, in cases where a consolidated department may offer scale opportunities to deliver comparably high-quality special education services in-district to a larger combined student population, there would likely be two direct financial benefits – in addition to the “human benefit” for children and families where students can be offered these specialized services in-district rather than having to leave L-A to go to school.

The first benefit is in per pupil education and support costs. Retaining special education students in-district would mitigate any “premium” paid by the department for out-of-district placements and would lower the aggregate per pupil cost of the department’s administrative services (i.e. under the assumption that students are retained in-district without adding to the current administrative infrastructure).

At the same time, a combined school department that can leverage scale advantages to deliver certain specialized services in-district may be in a position to offer those same services to other school departments in the region on a tuition basis (i.e. a combined L-A department could serve as the “out of district” placement for other departments), further offsetting the costs to deliver those services. The potential impact of providing this enhanced service would require additional detailed study, and would have to be weighed against the cost of scaling up both staffing and facilities to adequately provide those services.

A second benefit is in transportation costs. Lewiston and Auburn budgeted a combined $834,000 in transportation costs for their out-of-district placement special education population in FYE 2016. Although a consolidated department that delivers more special education programming in-district would still have a responsibility to transport those students each day (and the associated costs), transporting them to district buildings instead of other sites outside the community may reduce the required expenditure.

Potential Financial Impacts

As noted, it is difficult to project potential savings from such a move at the current time. But in order to provide a frame of reference for how a consolidated department could think about that potential, consider the following.

Lewiston estimates the total cost for a student placed out-of-district to be $83,000, compared to $49,500 for an in-district student. Several pieces make up the out-of-district total:

·       Tuition: Estimated to be $39,900 per student.

·       MaineCare Seed: Medically necessary services billed to Medicaid, for which the local department is partially responsible. Estimated to be $24,663 per student.

·       Extended School Year: Estimated to be $11,400 per student.

·       Extended School Year MaineCare Seed: Estimated to be $7,047 per student.

Transportation is in addition to these costs, since local departments are responsible for providing transportation to out-of-district placements. The average annual out-of-district transportation cost for Lewiston and Auburn is $5,860, compared to $630 for in-district special education students. That is a difference of $5,230 per student.

All else being equal, shifting an out-of-district placement to in-district placement could save $33,500 per student (i.e. $83,000 minus $49,500), plus an additional $5,230 on transportation. That is a total per-student difference of $38,730. Therefore, each hypothetical classroom that brings 8 currently out-of-district placements back into the local district would generate savings of more than $300,000.

CGR strongly recommends that in the event of consolidation, a unified Lewiston-Auburn School Department evaluate the possibility of bringing one or more out-of-district special education programs in-house. While this would not eliminate special education costs, leveraging scale advantages to deliver special education programming in-house would mitigate tuition payments and potentially reduce special education transportation costs.

As programming is evaluated for potential in-districting, emphasis should be on those services where the two school departments currently have the highest combined enrollment, since it would offer the greatest scale opportunities.

Transportation

Although both school departments use a common transportation vendor – Ledgemere Transportation Inc. – they employ different approaches. This results in different contract rates and overall costs. Lewiston contracts for the entirety of its transportation service – staff, capital equipment and related expenses. Auburn, by contrast, owns its fleet and contracts with the vendor to operate and maintain department-owned buses and rolling stock. As of the start of its most recent contract with Ledgemere, Auburn reported an active fleet of nineteen 77-pupil buses, two 84-pupil buses, two 43-pupil buses (with wheelchair accessibility), three minibuses (with wheelchair accessibility) and one 8-passenger van. In addition, Auburn had a spare bus fleet of six 77-pupil buses, one 45-pupil bus (with wheelchair accessibility), and one 23-pupil bus (with wheelchair accessibility).

This difference in approach explains, in part, the significant cost differential that exists between the two departments today. Lewiston’s per pupil transportation cost is nearly double that of Auburn, despite Lewiston being geographically smaller. Lewiston’s $3.3 million transportation budget for FYE 2016 translates to $610 per pupil, compared to Auburn’s $317 per pupil (on a budget of $1.1 million. The difference in approach also manifests itself in different contract rates with their common outside vendor, as shown in the following table (select 2016-17 common rate categories shown).

 

Lewiston

Auburn

 

 

 

Contract Start

1/29/2016

5/12/2016

Contract End

6/30/2021

2/01/2021

 

 

 

Full Size Bus

$268.75

$195.00

Full Size Bus w/ Aide

$340.75

$231.00

Minibus

$268.75

$195.00

Minibus w/ Aide

$340.75

$231.00

Minivan

$195.50

$190.00

Minivan w/ Aide

$267.50

$226.00

Midday Route

$92.45

$56.00


A primary reason for the rate differential is that Auburn owns its bus fleet, and has made a capital investment in buses over time that Lewiston has not. Auburn’s FYE 2016 budget included an appropriation for one new bus at $93,000, whereas Lewiston’s did not. The Auburn school department estimates new buses cost $90,000 to $100,000 on average. So although Auburn’s regular operational costs are lower, it has made a capital investment over time that Lewiston has not, by virtue of the different approaches. In current dollar terms, Auburn’s active bus fleet has a value of approximately $2.3 million. Converting Lewiston’s model to Auburn’s would require at least as much of an investment, and likely more given Lewiston’s larger enrollment. To the extent this is an opportunity for cost reductions, then, it is an out-year opportunity.

The state does provide transportation reimbursement to school departments. Both Lewiston and Auburn receive revenue to offset some or all of their transportation costs. In the current year, Lewiston’s transportation costs were reimbursed at a rate of approximately 90 percent, leaving a locally-funded differential of roughly $300,000. By contrast, Auburn’s costs were reimbursed at a rate of approximately 105 percent.

A combined school department would require a detailed analysis before determining whether it was willing to invest capital funds in buses.

It is important to note that Auburn receives certain state reimbursement for its bus expenditures through the Maine School Bus Purchase Program (Chapter 81 §81.1). So while the initial capital outlay for the bus is the responsibility of the school department, a significant percentage of the overall cost is reimbursed pending state approval. According to estimates provided by Auburn, recent bus purchases of $91,000 generated reimbursement of $79,000, leaving the school department responsible for only $12,000 of the total purchase cost. Over the past five fiscal years, the State of Maine has appropriated $8 million annually for bus purchases statewide through the SBPP. Notably, reimbursement is not guaranteed and is subject to state approval and fund availability. According to state data, last year’s statewide reimbursement requests totaled 262 (with a value of $23 million), compared to approvals of 91 (with a value of $8 million).

 

Lewiston

Auburn

 

 

 

Total Enrollment

5,442

3,617

  Spec Ed Enrollment

902

620

      In-District

799

580

      Out-of-District

103

40

Total Transportation Cost

$3.3m

$1.1m

  Per Pupil

$610

$317

  Per Non-SPED

$364

$191

  Per In-District SPED

$797

$416

  Per Out-of-District SPED

$7,520

$1,587


Another factor that likely impacts the cost differential between Lewiston and Auburn’s transportation costs is special education. In FYE 2016, Lewiston budgeted $1.4 million for transportation of special education students and students with disabilities (both in-district and out-of-district placements); Auburn, by contrast, budgeted $250,000 (increasing to approximately $300,000 when special education shares of fuel and vehicle insurance costs are accounted for). On a per pupil basis, Lewiston’s transportation costs for in-district special education students were $797, compared to Auburn’s $416. The difference is larger when considering out-of-district placements: Lewiston was $7,520, while Auburn was $1,587. This difference may be due, in part, to differences in the levels of service required by students in Lewiston vs. Auburn, as well as the distance some out-of-district placements are required to travel to access their program. But in both cases, the lower transportation cost for in-district special education compared to out-of-district placements reinforces the benefit that may result from opportunities to bring certain programming in-house, as discussed in the previous section.