Northport Select Board asks residents to vote 'yes' on RSU 20 withdrawal

By Drexell White

In an Oct. 8, letter to Northport residents, the town’s Select Board asked voters to vote “Yes” on the Nov. 4 Regional School Unit (RSU) withdrawal vote. If approved by voters, Northport would withdraw from RSU 20 and become an independent municipal school system.

Select Board members Denise Lindahl, Mark Humphreys and Drexell White endorsed the findings of the Northport School Withdrawal Committee that the town would be best served by withdrawing from RSU 20 and becoming its own municipal school unit. As a Northport-owned-and-operated school system, Edna Drinkwater School would provide education for kindergarten through eighth grade, with tuition arrangements for high school students.

In its letter, the Select Board stated withdrawal from RSU 20 would:

  • Allow Northport to make its own decisions about including such programs as foreign languages, arts, music and sports in its school;
  • Ensure the Edna Drinkwater School remains open. The Select Board cited RSU proposals in recent years that have included closing the Drinkwater School; with only two votes on an RSU Board of 17, Northport has little control over RSU decisions; and,
  • Provide quality education that is cost-effective. Northport residents have seen their share of RSU 20 costs rise more than 46 percent in the last three years. According to the work of the Northport Withdrawal Committee, Northport can provide a better education to students and at the same time ease the burden on taxpayers.

The board cited start-up costs associated with withdrawal, such as renovating the Drinkwater School’s kitchen so that meals may be prepared on-site, securing middle school science lab equipment and updating the library. However, they pointed out that the long-term educational and cost benefits to the town far outweigh the initial investment.

The letter also addressed the downsides of not withdrawing from RSU 20:

  • Northport would continue to have little say in the operations of RSU 20. With only two school board members on a 17-member RSU Board, Northport has little say about education programs and costs;
  • Edna Drinkwater School could close. RSU 20 is facing declining enrollment and will be forced into closing schools in the years to come. The Select Board stated that RSU 20 has considered closing the Drinkwater School in the past, and that there is no reason to believe that Drinkwater would be spared from closure in the future; and,
  • The future of RSU 20 is uncertain. All eight towns in RSU 20 are in the process of withdrawing. If Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville are successful in their joint withdrawal effort — and Northport doesn’t withdraw — Northport could be left in RSU 20 with only Searsport and Stockton Springs.

The Select Board stressed the importance of voting on the withdrawal issue Nov. 4. Maine law requires that at least 50 percent of the number of Northport voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election vote on the withdrawal article. For Northport, it means that 389 votes must be cast in order for the withdrawal vote to be considered valid.

Northport polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 4 and absentee ballots are now available at Northport Town Office.

More information about the Northport Withdrawal process may be found on the town web page, northportmaine.org/content/4102/RSU20_Withdrawal/. Questions may be emailed to withdrawalquestions@northportmaine.org.

Drexell White is chairman of the Northport Select Board.