Five-town school reorganization plan submitted for state review

By Ben Holbrook | Aug 26, 2014

Draft language for the five-town school reorganization plan has been approved by a committee and will now go to the Maine Department of Education for review.

The plan submitted by Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville details how the five towns will reform as a new Regional School Unit if the towns are successful in their attempts to withdraw from RSU 20 during a referendum vote Nov. 4.

According to a draft of the reorganization plan, the new RSU will governed by a nine-member board of directors. Belfast will have five members and Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville each will have one member on the board.

The plan states that Belfast will elect two members for three-year terms, two members for two-year terms and one member for a one-year term. Belmont will elect one member for a two-year term; Morrill will elect one member for a three-year term; Searsmont will elect one member for a one-year term; and Swanville will elect one member for a one-year term, according to the plan.

A quorum requires 500 weighted votes and 500 weighted votes are needed to pass a motion.

Real and personal school property such as land, buildings, textbooks, supplies and other items will transfer to the new RSU under terms of the withdrawal agreements, the reorganization plan indicates. There is an exception regarding an oak table at Gladys Weymouth Elementary and watercolor paintings of the Peirce, Anderson and Robertson schools at the Captain Albert Sevens School. In those cases, the oak table will be transferred to the Town of Morrill if it withdraws from the new RSU and the paintings will transfer to Belfast if it withdraws from the new RSU.

As of July 1, 2015, the new RSU will assume liability for bonds, notes and lease purchase agreements that originated with SAD 34 and were then assumed by RSU 20. According to the reorganization plan, the new RSU will assume state debt in the amount of $6,641,540.41 and local debt of $3,626,896.56.

The new RSU will also assume any other bonds, notes or lease purchase agreements issued by RSU 20 before July 1, 2015, that benefit schools in the five towns.

According to the reorganization plan, the five towns will elect a board of directors as soon as possible and the board will establish interim rules of procedure, as well as elect interim officers to serve until officers are elected at a meeting after the start date of the new RSU.

One a certificate of organization has been issued by the State Board of Education, the school board will begin developing a proposed budget. The reorganization plan states the board will consider potential cost savings and additional costs that could result from the reorganization.

In addition, the board can consider changes in operations that will reduce costs without negatively impacting educational programs.

The plan also addresses scenarios where a town votes to withdraw from RSU 20 but not to reform as a new RSU. Attorney Kristin Collins told The Republican Journal that in that type of scenario, the reorganization plan could be revisited and changed before another vote to reform as a new district is held.

The reorganization committee recommended in the plan that the new RSU board of directors look at entering into agreements with one or more neighboring districts to “share certain central services.” Collins told The Republican Journal that sharing superintendent, transportation, maintenance and other services could help the new RSU reduce its operational costs.

Collins noted one important aspect of the plan is that Northport, which is also seeking to withdraw from RSU 20 and run its own K-8 school, will have a significant financial impact on the other seven towns in RSU 20.

If the five towns vote to withdraw from RSU 20 and to reform as a new district, new five-town organizational structure will help to lessen the financial impact of Northport leaving, Collins said.

Collins said personnel in the schools is anticipated to remain almost the same as it is now.

Cost-sharing for the new RSU will be based on a percentage of the local community's valuation — the same method currently used by RSU 20 — the reorganization plan states. However, the method of sharing local costs for the new RSU may be changed after its first three budget years by a district referendum vote called by the board of directors.

The draft reorganization plan was approved Aug. 21 by the reorganization committee and was submitted to the state the evening of Aug. 25. Collins said she anticipates receiving the state's response in September.

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