Searsmont votes to explore withdrawing from RSU 20

Special vote sees weak turnout
By Ben Holbrook | Jul 11, 2012

Searsmont — Searsmont residents voted in favor of exploring a possible withdrawal from RSU 20 despite a weak turnout Tuesday, July 10.

Residents voted 56 in favor to nine against to explore withdrawing from RSU 20. Only 7 percent of the registered voters cast a ballot, according to the Town Clerk's office.

The affirmative vote means Searsmont will have to form a four-person committee comprised of a school board member, a member of the petitioners' group, a municipal officer and a member of the general public.

The committee is responsible for submitting a plan to the Commissioner of Education assessing the financial impact of withdrawing, and establishing a plan for the transportation of students.

Belfast, Morrill, Northport and Swanville have all voted in favor of exploring withdrawing from RSU 20. Belfast recently appointed Susan Woods, the only resident in the city to volunteer, to serve as the member of the general public on the four-person committee.

Residents attended a public hearing Thursday, June 28, to learn more about what withdrawing from the current RSU 20 configuration would involve. Steve Hutchings, co-organizer of the withdrawal, explained why he felt the towns would benefit by re-forming in a manner similar to the former SAD 34 district.

Hutchings also warned that staying in RSU 20 could result in some of the smaller schools, such as Ames Elementary, being closed, because the district would need to fill the Searsport schools, which are at about 50 percent capacity, in an effort to save money.

Some residents questioned what financial and educational benefits to the town and students are associated with withdrawing. Hutchings said withdrawing from RSU 20 would help preserve the small community schools, which he felt offered some of the best education in the country.

Financially, he estimated savings could be as much as $2 million, because residents wouldn't be paying to educate Searsport students.He also noted that the mandate that teachers be paid equitable salaries across the board would mean many teachers in Searsport would see salary increases if the towns remain in RSU 20.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at bholbrook@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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