AUGUSTA, Maine - Three months after action had been expected, state lawmakers gave final approval yesterday to a bill to refine last year's sweeping legislation to consolidate Maine school systems. Almost immediately, as anticipated, Governor John Baldacci vetoed it.
Conceding insufficient sentiment to override, the Senate sustained the Baldacci veto, 23-to-12.
A new bill filed by Baldacci and shorn of the elements he found objectionable will now be taken up.
The governor said his new bill is designed to allow school units to negotiate local cost-sharing agreements. It also aims to allow districts that receive a minimum special education subsidy to continue to do so when they join a new school district.
"Maine must continue to push for the highest-quality education for our children, but we must also continue to seek greater efficiencies in the way the state delivers services," the Democratic chief executive said in a formal veto message.
The Senate had voted to enact the measure Baldacci opposed on a tally of 21-to-14, a strong vote mirroring majority backing in the House of Representatives but, as in the House, short of the full membership two-thirds that would be needed to overcome a veto.
With the outcome all but decided, some lawmakers voted to let the governor's veto stand out of "respect for the office," said Senate Majority Leader Elizabeth Mitchell, Democrat of Vassalboro.
This year's follow-up consolidation bill was originally introduced as a relatively modest effort to smooth out provisions of last session's legislation that continued to trouble various parties. One aim was to address mandatory cost-sharing formulas that would require some towns to pay more for education.
The Education Committee endorsed the measure after including a one-year delay from 2008 to 2009 of a mandatory school budget referendum process.
When the measure reached the Senate, another change was added that would authorize Reorganization Planning Committees to build new school systems as school unions rather than school districts.
In his veto message, Baldacci said that in the course of the bill's rewriting, "its original purpose was lost."
"In its current form, L.D. 1932 would undermine the effectiveness of the education reforms that passed the Legislature last year with broad bipartisan support. Specifically, the bill would allow for the formation of 'super unions,' which would encourage more bureaucracy and allow for the expansion of an inefficient means of school governance," Baldacci wrote.
"Maine would likely end up with more school districts, not fewer. Further, the bill would decrease the transparency of the budget validation process and increase confusion, making it more difficult for voters to get a complete picture of how their tax dollars are being spent on education."