RSU 20 board to vote on Belfast withdrawal proposal at next meeting

Veterans seek permission to offer alternatives to military service
By Tanya Mitchell | Mar 20, 2013
Source: File image

Belfast — The Regional School Unit (RSU) 20 Board of Directors received the revised copy of the draft withdrawal agreement at its regular meeting Tuesday night, March 12, but will not likely take action on the proposal until its next regular meeting.

RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter distributed the latest draft of the withdrawal proposal, dated March 12, and encouraged directors to read it carefully and compare it to the previous draft the Board received at its Feb. 26 meeting. Carpenter said he would be asking Board Chairman Tony Bagley to present the latest version before the Board for approval at the next meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, March 26, at Searsport District High School.

Carpenter highlighted some of the major changes in the newest proposal, including a requirement that voters in all six of the former School Administrative District 34 towns must vote to approve the draft agreement and those same towns must also vote in favor of re-forming into a new RSU. Otherwise, Carpenter explained, the withdrawal effort will be nullified.

"That's a major change," said Carpenter.

The vote to withdraw, according to the draft proposal, will take place in the spring while the vote to form a new RSU would likely take place in the fall.

Another highlight of the latest draft, said Carpenter, is the portion of the plan dealing with his contract as superintendent, particularly if the RSU 20 Board decides to extend that contract for another year after Carpenter’s contract expires June 30, 2014. If the RSU 20 Board opts to extend Carpenter’s contract for another year and the towns vote to withdraw, the six towns of the new RSU would pay its share of the cost of the superintendent’s salary and benefits.

The plan also allows students in grades nine through 12 enrolled at an RSU 20 school at the end of the 2014-2015 year to continue to attend an RSU 20 school until they graduate. To that end, Carpenter said the new version of the draft agreement states that the new RSU would transport students who wish to continue attending RSU 20 schools from a central location during the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Director Stephen Hopkins sought clarification about which directors are permitted to vote when it comes time to make a decision about the draft agreement.

“If you’re on a withdrawal committee, you yourself cannot vote for the withdrawal [plan], but other people from the same town can?” he asked.

Carpenter said that was correct, offering the example of the upcoming vote on the Belfast proposal. Since Belfast Director Dorothy Odell also serves on the withdrawal committee for Belfast, Odell could not vote on the Belfast proposal, but her fellow Belfast directors are permitted to do so. Carpenter said the vote on the proposals from all six towns must pass by a super-majority vote.

Assistant Superintendent John McDonald said the Board could achieve that super-majority vote even if one member was absent, but he encouraged all directors to attend the next meeting.

Carpenter said after Bagley brings it to the RSU 20 Board and if directors give the proposal their approval, Bagley will sign the document and send it off to the state education commissioner’s office for approval. That approval from the state, said Carpenter, would likely take up to 30 days.

The five towns other than Belfast, added Carpenter, must still present their own plans for approval, but that process should not be as lengthy, because all towns would likely use the same language contained in the Belfast proposal.

“The only difference will be the financial issues,” said Carpenter.

Bagley said the Board had received a proposal from one of the five remaining towns earlier that same evening, but the Board has yet to receive proposals from the other four towns looking to leave RSU 20.

During the public participation portion of the meeting, Belfast resident Christopher Hyk urged the Board to move quickly on its approval of the plan so Belfast residents could cast their ballots on the proposal in June.

Belfast Withdrawal Committee Vice Chairman Steven Hutchings delivered a similar message.

“The train keeps moving along and it’s at your station right now,” he said to the Board.

Hutchings also encouraged residents to get out and vote when it comes time to weigh in at the ballot box because the approval requires a turnout of at least 50 percent of the last gubernatorial election.

In other news, the Board heard a request from Belfast residents Stephen Allen and Dan Avener, who came to the Board to speak on behalf of the nationwide organization to which both men belong, Veterans for Peace. Both men, said Allen, are veterans of the Army.

Allen, who has been a substitute teacher at Belfast Area High School, has seen many military recruiters set up in the lobby to speak with students about joining various branches of the military. Allen said the recruiters are permitted to do so several times a year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and the same mandate requires the school to turn over names, addresses and phone numbers of each student to the Department of Defense.

Allen said based on his own military experiences, he sees many of the promises made by the recruiters as false, particularly the promises that the students will be trained in ways that will give them better chances to land jobs when they get out. Also, Allen said, he’s seen some promise the youths they can choose the location of their assignment – Hawaii tends to be one of the locations recruiters highlight when speaking to students.

Earlier this year, Allen and Avener expressed interest in setting up in the high school lobby to distribute alternative information from the Veterans Administration, the Department of Defense, Veterans for Peace and the American Civil Liberties Union to give students a more accurate picture of what military service is like. The men also hoped to offer students ideas for careers, as well as information about the Peace Corps and the AmeriCorps Vista program.

Two days before the men were to set up at the high school, however, Allen said BAHS Principal Steve Fitzpatrick informed them that the dissemination of those materials would be in violation of the district’s policy governing the distribution of non-school materials, a policy that allows an exception for military recruiters.

“Our position is that particular ruling is too restrictive,” said Allen, noting Avener made a similar presentation at the high school two years ago.

“It’s up to the Board as a whole, but remember, others will come forward to ask for the same privilege,” said Carpenter.

After some discussion, directors agreed to send the policy back to the Policy Committee for review and possible changes.

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