Officials look to draft five-town withdrawal plan with state help
Regional School Unit 20 officials, attorneys, withdrawal committee members and the Department of Education will meet in May to hash out a plan for five of the eight towns to leave the district.
Brian Carpenter, RSU 20 superintendent, said the meeting was scheduled for May 15 to discuss a withdrawal plan for the towns of Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville. However, that meeting date has changed, Belfast attorney Kristin Collins said, but still should take place sometime this month.
The terms of that agreement, according to Carpenter, would be similar to the plan approved when those towns attempted to leave the district in 2013.
Carpenter said the agreement would contain a contingency that requires all five of the towns to vote to withdraw and to reform as a new district or the effort will fail.
Collins said the plan that officials and withdrawal members are contemplating would be very similar to the plans submitted in 2013. She said a vote to leave RSU 20 would happen in November of this year, and a vote to reform would either take place in December 2014 or January 2015.
The new five-town district would then take effect as of July 1, 2015.
State statute requires at least 50 percent of the voters who cast a ballot in the previous gubernatorial election to vote either for or against the withdrawal effort. A simple majority will pass or reject the measure.
Because the vote would take place in November during a gubernatorial election, Collins said committee members are not concerned about meeting the voter turnout requirement.
Collins said the withdrawal committees in each of the five towns said they favored the contingency language being considered for the withdrawal plan versus the uncertainty of what would happen if the towns left the district individually and had to operate their own schools for a period of time.
She also noted that because the DOE and RSU 20 officials will be involved in the discussions about the towns leaving the district, once the plan is submitted the process can move forward in a timely manner.
When the towns previously attempted to leave the district, only Morrill and Searsmont were able to muster the voter turnout to pass the measure.
Because Northport is pursuing its own options for withdrawal the town will be subject to a separate negotiation process, Carpenter said. Searsport and Stockton Springs, which are also looking at withdrawal, will not need to attend the May meeting, Carpenter said.
Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.
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