Belfast prepared to move forward with withdrawal planMorrill only town to commit to Belfast plan
Belfast — Belfast will begin drafting a plan for withdrawal from RSU 20, despite receiving a commitment from only one of the five other towns exploring the issue to join the city in re-forming School Administrative District 34.
Morrill is the only town that has agreed to join with Belfast. During previous withdrawal meetings, Belfast Committee Chairman Eric Sanders asked the other committees to decide to commit to Belfast’s plan or pursue their own options by Sept. 10.
Currently, all of the former SAD 34 towns –– with the exception of Swanville – have successfully voted to explore withdrawing from Regional School Unit 20. Swanville’s vote was ruled invalid by the state because of improper language on the ballot.
Belmont passed a withdrawal referendum by a vote of 12 in favor to four against during a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, Sept. 4, and Swanville will hold a re-vote later this month.
Since neither Belmont nor Swanville have official committees, representatives from both towns declined to say whether they would join Belfast's plan.
One of the concerns expressed over the course of the withdrawal process so far is how much a withdrawal will cost taxpayers. That concern came to the forefront again during the Sept. 10 meeting, when several committees were hesitant to make a commitment due to questions about costs.
Northport Committee member Deb Riley said her committee is seeking a 90-day extension from the state, because the members agreed they needed more time to research before committing to a specific plan.
As part of the research process, Riley said, the committee approached Lincolnville about the possibility of sending students there, but were informed that wouldn’t be an option because the school is full.
She said there was also discussion about forming an Alternative Organization Structure for kindergarten through fifth-grade students. If the committee pursues an AOS, Riley said, the town would need to tuition the rest of its students to another school.
Without a firm commitment from all six of the towns, Belfast may run into difficulties when negotiating for use of the school buildings, which are owned by RSU 20. Former Superintendent Bruce Mailloux has cautioned Belfast in the past that it would be difficult to successfully negotiate for the buildings without support from the other towns, because there wouldn’t be an incentive to relinquish ownership.
However, with enough towns supporting the withdrawal effort, Mailloux said, the district would be financially unable to maintain the buildings and, as a result, would be more willing to negotiate with the towns.
Belfast Attorney Kristin Collins suggested moving forward with drafting a plan with the assumption that all six towns will join. She said one of the advantages of drafting a plan now is that it would give each town time to file for an extension from the state if they aren’t happy with what is created.
Searsmont committee member Bruce Brierley agreed that Belfast should move forward on a plan, because the committee is already ahead of other committees.
“I would like to see Belfast’s plan. Somebody has to go ahead and create a plan,” he said.
Several parents who were in attendance at the meeting questioned why some committees were hesitant to join with Belfast because the committees are charged by law to create a withdrawal plan.
Collins said she was getting the impression that many of the committees feel they are being rushed, and it might be possible to address issues with time constraints. Sanders suggested moving forward with drafting a plan and requesting a commitment from the other towns by early October.
The Belfast committee will begin drafting a plan Monday, Sept. 17, at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall. Other town committees are encouraged to attend to participate in the planning process.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.