Maine is handing out 11 more grants aimed at encouraging new, creative models of school consolidation.

Gov. Paul LePage’s administration has said the grants are designed to be incentives for districts to collaborate, shifting the school consolidation focus from coercion and penalties, as was the case under LePage’s predecessor, Democrat John Baldacci, to voluntary cooperation.

The Maine Department of Education announced the latest round of EMBRACE regionalization grant recipients in a Wednesday news release. In total, they amount to $4.6 million. The districts involved in these projects are largely in rural areas where prolonged enrollment declines and budget challenges have prompted officials to weigh fresh approaches.

— In Washington County, 11 groups are partnering to re-establish a group called the Washington County Consortium with the mission of creating sustainable professional development opportunities in the area. The effort involves schools across the region, headed by Calais, and also includes Maine Indian Education, the University of Maine at Machias and a Washington County leadership team.

— Lewiston and Auburn public schools will work with nearby Regional School Units 15 and 52 to transfer special education services for all the districts’ 3- to 5-year-olds to the Lewiston School Department by 2020. The goal is to ensure the students are prepared when they enter the districts’ other schools, according to the education department.

— Biddeford and Dayton public schools also will send all 3- to 5-year-old special education students to Biddeford with the same goal.

— North Anson-based RSU 74 will join Bingham, Moscow and Madison to add arts programing to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) initiatives that were supported by a regionalization grant last year. The education department said the programs also will be open to more students in the district.

— Madison’s school district will lead an effort that also includes RSUs 74 and 83 to start a middle school alternative education program that will strive to reduce dropout and truancy rates by working with at-risk students in the districts.

— Lincoln’s school district will partner with East Millinocket, Medway, Millinocket, and RSU 30 to start a “regional service center” focused on alternative education programs, a shared world language program and regionalizing student support services.

— Unity-based RSU 3 will collaborate with Brewer Community School, Indian Island School, RSU 20, Wiscasset Elementary School and UMaine to create a regional professional development program for teachers in a push to improve academic achievement and social growth among students.

— Houlton-based RSU 29 will partner with RSUs 50, 70 and 84 to create a Southern Aroostook Area Regional Alternative Center in an effort to increase access to career and technical education for the districts’ students.

— Fort Kent-based SAD 27 will work with schools in Madawaska, St. Agatha and Frenchville to create a regional center that will allow the districts to share administrative services. Resulting savings will be allocated to student programs, such as career education and world languages.

— Westbrook and Gorham schools will create an adult education program geared to career and technical education in high-demand fields.

— Eight western Maine school districts, headed up by Jay-based RSU 73, will audit school programming and graduation standards across the region in hopes of streamlining standards to help students adjust from school to school, and provide staff with similar development opportunities.

The education department said these 11 projects are expected to save the districts involved a combined $10 million over five years.

This year, 19 school districts applied for grants. The total funding available for the competitive grants will increase to $5 million in 2019.

In 2017, the state awarded 10 grants ranging from $130,000 to $798,000 to school districts so they could tackle a range of issues, including collaborations to offer special education and professional development for teachers at a regional level, instead of through individual school districts.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.

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