Attorney renews call for legislation to dissolve RSU 20

By Ben Holbrook | Apr 08, 2014

Belfast — A bill that would dissolve Regional School Unit 20 may be a better option than the town-by-town effort underway in all eight member municipalities, according to a Belfast attorney.

Speaking to councilors Tuesday, April 1, city attorney Kristin Collins said she has “circled” around to the idea of creating legislation that would effectively dissolve RSU 20. She explained the benefit of dissolving the district is that it would take only one vote to allow the towns to leave, as opposed to the piecemeal process of withdrawal.

Collins pointed out that Belfast recently submitted a withdrawal agreement to the RSU 20 board, which in turn is appointing a four-person team to negotiate with the city. That process, Collins said, is both complicated and slow and means the city will be unlikely to be able to vote on leaving RSU 20 during the June primary.

She also explained that the agreement plans that are being submitted to the RSU 20 board are different from those that were prepared when Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont and Swanville attempted to withdraw in 2013.

The new agreement plans would not include a contingency that required all of the towns to support withdrawal in order for it to take effect. However, she said that by not including such a contingency, if all of the towns except Belmont voted to leave RSU 20, the town would be left without any schools.

The city's withdrawal committee was aiming for the June primary vote because state statute requires at least 50 percent of the voters who cast a ballot in the previous gubernatorial election cast a ballot either for or against withdrawal.

Even if the June vote is not possible, Councilor Eric Sanders noted that a vote later in the summer or during the November election may still allow enough time to form a new district that would take effect July 1, 2015.

During discussion, Councilor Mike Hurley asked Collins who would be responsible for drafting the bill that would dissolve the district. Collins said representatives from the withdrawal committees and attorneys could get together to discuss the terms of the legislation and draft the language of the bill.

The bill would be sponsored by two representatives in the legislature and it would be sent to the Department of Education officials for their consideration. Collins said if the bill received approval, a district-wide referendum could be held to ask voters to dissolve RSU 20.

She noted the referendum vote to dissolve RSU 20 would not have a voter turnout requirement unlike the vote to withdraw from the district.

Collins told councilors the DOE does not support withdrawal, but may look more favorably on the dissolution option based on her initial conversations with officials.

Mayor Walter Ash said he spoke with a teacher from Searsport recently at his auto repair shop and the teacher said the only way to save money is to consolidate, which he agreed with.

“If you're going to save money you have to have the numbers to do it,” he said.

As discussion concluded, Collins said that apart from town valuation, enrollment numbers have a significant impact on budgets and districts have to be responsive to changing enrollments. She said one of the goals of the withdrawal effort is to create a district that is the most responsive to shifting enrollments.

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Ben Holbrook
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Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.

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