Editorial - Eight is enough
Every single Regional School Unit 20 town is pursuing withdrawal from the RSU. That is the state of the district this week after Searsport and Stockton Springs completed petitions to start the process of withdrawal. Every town is taking steps to tear down this RSU.
Why did the last two towns suddenly jump in? It seems to be because of the ongoing talks about consolidating the district. That and a lot of misinformation.
This latest, and hastiest of withdrawal efforts was born seemingly out of a Facebook group that put forth some dubious claims. The biggest being that the superintendent said he has the power to close Searsport and Stockton Springs schools on his own. He does not, nor has anyone involved in that effort been able to cite when he supposedly said this. There is a lengthy process to close a school, one in which the RSU 20 board of directors and eventually the citizens of the town must vote to close their school themselves.
RSU 20 Board Chairman Tony Bagley explained the process this week, noting that a school closure takes far more than just a board vote or unilateral decision by any one board member or administrator, for that matter.
A district wide public forum, which Bagley said would likely be rescheduled at this week's board meeting, will be the place to start answering questions from the public about the school consolidation concepts that are on the table for further discussion. After that, Bagley said, the directors and administration plan to deliver the information to each individual town in the RSU.
If and when the directors choose to pursue one of the plans, state law dictates a school board must first vote to close a specific school, and that the vote must be by a two-thirds majority. Then it's turned over to residents of the town where the school faces closure, a decision the residents will make at the ballot box. If residents in the impacted town vote against closing the school, according to state law, that town must pay the savings offset to the district.
To us, this process sounds as though it could be lengthy, and rightfully so. These are big decisions, after all, and there is not an "undo" button to reverse any of the impacts (good and bad) that might result from a hasty move.
This latest group was gathered on the fly, and not in a very public way. Has anyone given a second thought to what they hope to accomplish by withdrawing?
If these towns want to be on their own in their own district, all they have to do is wait for the other six towns to complete their withdrawal efforts, which they appear likely to do this coming November. What other goal could they have?
If residents of these towns are concerned about their schools closing, there are better ways to voice those concerns than to jump on the withdrawal band wagon. All that withdrawing does at this point is muddy the waters for the RSU board, which is working on consolidation plans. Do some of those plans call for schools in Stockton and Searsport be closed? Yes. Is it a guarantee those schools will be closed? No.
But rather than play a part in the process by going to board of directors meetings or speaking up in public, these residents go to Facebook to rabble rouse.
Right now this RSU is being pulled in two opposing directions. One from the towns withdrawing from the district to reform SAD 34 and the other is from the board exploring consolidation.
It is time for the towns pushing withdrawal to stop, take a breath and participate in the consolidation discussion. Perhaps if we come together instead of pulling apart the district can come to a solution that will make, if not everyone, most people happy.
It is easy to say you're going to pack up your schools and go play by yourself, but it is far more beneficial to all the children and the tax payers in this district to work together to formulate a plan to educate every child to a high standard while keeping the cost in check.