Committees discuss drafting withdrawal agreements, reforming SAD 34

By Ben Holbrook | Feb 26, 2014

Belfast — Withdrawal committee members from Belfast and Morrill renewed the call for as many of the former School Administrative District 34 towns to join together to leave Regional School Unit 20.

To date, the withdrawal committees in Morrill and Searsmont have voted to join together with Belfast in their efforts to leave the district. Belfast Withdrawal Committee Chairman Eric Sanders said he has also invited Belmont, Northport and Swanville to participate in the meetings, as well; however, he said Belmont committee members have indicated they are waiting on data to be presented before they make any decisions.

Sanders said he believed Swanville would join with Belfast and the other towns, but officials were also waiting for data regarding any potential costs or savings. Northport's withdrawal committee is exploring the possibility of running its own school and sharing superintendent services with Union 69, which is comprised of the towns of Appleton, Hope and Lincolnville.

During a meeting Thursday, Feb. 20, Sanders and legal counsel Kristin Collins discussed the next steps for the towns as they begin the process of drafting their withdrawal agreements. Sanders said the analysis commissioned by the city council will be important to the withdrawal effort because it will identify the potential costs or savings associated with leaving RSU 20.

Randy Place and Tony Swebilius, both of Morrill, said they had looked at a number of options for the town and determined that due to costs, the most viable option is to join with the former SAD 34 towns to create a new district.

Sanders said he believed reforming SAD 34 as a new district would be the least disruptive to the communities and students, while also noting that the tri-towns, Belmont, Morrill and Searsmont, are an important piece of the puzzle because those towns are on a list to receive state funding to construct a new school.

In addition to the Belfast withdrawal committee, the city council recently hired Charles Lawton of Planning Decisions, Inc., to conduct an in-depth analysis of the costs associated with alternative organizational structures.

The analysis will then be made available to the withdrawal committees to share with residents, and Collins noted officials in the towns could consult with Lawton to discuss answering any questions that are not addressed within the scope of work outlined by the City Council.

Sanders suggested it was not in the best interest of Belfast, Morrill and Searsmont to hold off on drafting their own plans while waiting for an answer on whether Belmont, Northport and Swanville will join their efforts.

Collins agreed and said she could begin drafting individual agreements for withdrawal that contain language that states the towns would intend to vote again to re-form as a new district. Swebilius commented that he did not want the agreements to contain contingency language that was included in the plans during the 2013 withdrawal effort.

When the former SAD 34 towns attempted to withdraw last year, the agreements contained a stipulation that all six towns had to withdraw or the effort would fail. That language was included because the RSU 20 board of directors required it and they would not sign off on a plan that did not include that specific contingency, Sanders said.

Collins told committee members the withdrawal agreements need to be submitted by April and that by the next committee meeting, more information should be available regarding the progress of the withdrawal analysis.

The next withdrawal meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 13, at 6 p.m. at the Morrill Community Center.

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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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