Committees, RSU 20 board look to expedite withdrawal negotiations
With the clock ticking to meet the deadlines to hold a withdrawal vote in November, officials are looking at ways to move the process forward in a timely manner.
In a timeline provided by the Maine Department of Education, in order to hold the referendum vote on Nov. 4, the withdrawal plan needed to be submitted to Education Commissioner Jim Rier by the end of June.
By law, the commissioner can take up to 60 days to review a withdrawal plan for conditional approval; however, the MDOE indicated it would try to review the plans within 30 days. Based on that timeline, the commissioner would provide conditional approval of the withdrawal plan by July 30; a public hearing notice would be posted in early August followed by a public hearing on the proposed withdrawal agreement in mid-August.
Following the public hearing, the withdrawal committees would submit the results of the public hearing and a final agreement to the commissioner for approval or possible changes. The deadline to provide a date for the referendum vote for the withdrawal agreement would be set for the end of September due to the fact state statute requires the date be set a minimum of 35 days prior to the vote.
Finally, another public hearing would be held in late October to discuss the withdrawal question on the November ballot.
The MDOE also pointed out that that the voter turnout requirement, which stipulates that the total number of votes cast for and against withdrawal must equal or exceed 50 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, would remain in effect indefinitely.
Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville are looking to withdraw from RSU 20 and then reform as a new district which would take effect as of July 1, 2015. Northport is also looking to leave RSU 20, but would share superintendent services with School Union 69 , which includes the towns of Appleton, Hope and Lincolnville, and run its own K-8 school.
The withdrawal agreements for Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville include a contingency that requires each of the towns to vote in favor of withdrawing and to then vote to reform as a new district.
Tony Bagley, chairman of the RSU 20 board of directors, said the directors recently voted to allow him and Superintendent Brian Carpenter, as well as the district's attorney, to negotiate with the withdrawal committees in the interest of accommodating the deadlines for the November vote.
While the timeline provided by the MDOE is fairly strict, Bagley said officials have indicated there is some flexibility in the scheduling that would still allow for the November vote.
He also noted that the withdrawal agreements are very similar to the agreements the board had approved when a number of towns attempted to leave the district previously.
Bagley said as of Tuesday, July 1 he had not received any withdrawal agreements, but he expected the agreements would be brought before the full board during their July 8 meeting.
Belfast attorney Kristin Collins said Morrill's withdrawal agreement was submitted to the district's attorneys last week and is waiting to receive feedback. She said Morrill's agreement was submitted and will serve as the template for the agreements for Belfast, Belmont, Searsmont and Swanville.
Collins said Northport's withdrawal agreement has also been submitted for review by the district's attorneys.
With the Nov. 4 date vote looming, Collins said the committees need to have the approval of the RSU 20 board of directors no later than mid-July so that the agreements can then be submitted to the education commissioner's office for review.
The towns of Searsport and Stockton Springs have also initiated the withdrawal process but at the advice of Dick Spencer, an attorney with Drummond Woodsum, the two towns to are choosing to wait and see if the other six towns in the district are able to withdraw successfully.
If the withdrawal effort is successful, Searsport and Stockton Springs would remain in RSU 20 and Bagley said there would be no need for the towns to continue with their own withdrawal efforts.