Searsport withdrawal public hearing set for Feb. 20
The Searsport Board of Selectmen set Feb. 20 for a public hearing that must be held prior to the March 4 vote on whether to form a committee to pursue withdrawal from Regional School Unit 20.
Once the vote is held a withdrawal committee must be formed, which includes a school board member, town official, member of the group petitioning for withdrawal and a member of the general public. The committee then formulates a withdrawal plan, which must be submitted to both the Department of Education and the RSU 20 School Board. It is only after the plan has been approved that the town will have the chance to vote again on the question of whether to actually withdraw from the RSU.
The selectmen voted at their Feb. 4 meeting to set the public hearing date and discussed the withdrawal movement. Chairman Aaron Fethke suggested that the board invite a representative of the school board to help answer questions at the hearing. School Board Chair Tony Bagley, of Searsport, was mentioned as someone who might be willing to attend the meeting and field questions; however, Town Manager James Gillway explained that many of the questions likely to be posed will not be answered until the withdrawal committee is formed and goes through its process following the March 4 vote.
"So a lot of the questions won't be answered until the process [is completed]," Fethke said. "Once we find that out we'll have another opportunity to accept it or reject it."
Selectman Doug Norman said he wanted to clarify remarks he had made at a previous meeting, which were quoted in The Republican Journal. Norman said he did not think withdrawal would be easy because of the number of steps it takes to complete the process — 22 in total. He said he was concerned that people might think the upcoming March vote would result in withdrawal when it was only the beginning of a long process.
Selectman Dick Desmarais said he had talked with a Stockton Springs official who said their town would look at either joining Regional School Unit 25, which includes Prospect and Bucksport, or joining in a new district with Searsport. He said they were planning to hold informational meetings discussing each option. Desmarais also talked with a Swanville selectman, to gauge the possibility that Swanville would consider joining with Searsport.
"I think at this point it is kind of just talk and putting our fingers in the air trying to figure out where the wind is blowing," Fethke said.
The public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. in Union Hall in Searsport on Feb. 20.