Belfast considering independent analysis to assess withdrawal impact
Belfast — Belfast is considering paying for an independent analysis to assess the the financial and educational impact of withdrawing from Regional School Unit 20.
Residents voted 310 in favor to 131 against to restart the withdrawal process for a second time after a vote held Tuesday, Aug. 20. The city previously attempted to withdraw, along with Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont and Swanville, but failed to meet a state mandated voter turnout requirement.
The state mandate required at least 50 percent of the voters who cast a ballot in the previous gubernatorial election to cast a ballot either for or against the withdrawal effort. Of the six towns, only Morrill and Searsmont were able to meet the turnout threshold.
Because the withdrawal effort failed, the towns would have had to wait for two years before having a chance to restart the process. However, because the percentage of voters who cast a ballot in favor of withdrawal exceeded 60 percent in each town, state statute allowed the process to begin again without having to wait two years.
As a result, petitioners in Belfast gathered enough signatures to trigger the August 20 vote. The next step in the process for the city is to form a withdrawal committee that will craft a plan to leave RSU 20.
Councilor Mike Hurley suggested hiring the consultants who will address the impact of withdrawal in both the short term and long term. During its first withdrawal attempt, the city allocated $50,000 to the effort, and more than half of that balance remains to put towards the cost of the consultants.
The consultants could help answer questions about the costs associated with reforming School Administrative District 34, the viability of Belfast withdrawing on its own or whether it would be better to remain in RSU 20, as well as the impact to educational programs.
Councilor Eric Sanders agreed with the idea of the analysis, noting that much of the criticism aimed at the withdrawal effort centered on what the financial impact of leaving RSU 20 would be to taxpayers.
“I love the idea of the council getting behind an independent audit,” Sanders said.
He continued by saying that not only could the analysis address the short term impacts of withdrawal, it could help residents better understand what the district could look like 25 years down the road.
In addition to Belfast, Belmont voted in favor of restarting its withdrawal process during an August 22 vote by a margin of 36 in favor to 15 against. Northport and Searsmont are scheduled to vote on restarting their withdrawal processes Tuesday, Sept. 17. Residents in Northport will be asked to approve $30,000 for costs related to withdrawal, which include an independent audit, according to information posted on the town's website.
Morrill has received petitions to hold a vote to restart the withdrawal process, but the vote has not yet been scheduled. Swanville has not received any petitions to restart the withdrawal process, but Sanders indicated during the meeting that petitions were circulating in the community.
Councilors voted unanimously to authorize City Manager Joseph Slocum to work with the Department of Education to identify potential consultants to do the analysis.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.
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