Withdrawal committee discusses forming think tankCommittee members express frustration at district's lack of action regarding consolidation
Belfast — Belfast's withdrawal committee discussed potential members to serve on an eight-town panel to discuss options for leaving Regional School Unit 20, while concerns were also aired regarding the school board's sluggish progress with addressing the district's consolidation proposals.
The committee is looking at forming a panel, or “think tank,” that would have representation from each of the eight RSU 20 towns. The group would be looking at potential structures for how the district could operate. As an example, Belfast attorney Kristin Collins said the group could look at a scenario where the towns operate their own elementary and middle schools but then students attend the same regional high school.
Belfast withdrawal committee Chairman Eric Sanders said it makes sense to get perspective from people in all of the towns that are part of the district.
“I feel it's an honorable way to get a discussion going,” Sanders said of the formation of the think tank.
The think tank would include members who are former educators and superintendents, current legislators and town officials, as well as members with other various skill sets.
City Councilor Mike Hurley, who was present for a portion of the withdrawal meeting, noted one of the issues in RSU 20 is cuts are being made to education in order to keep schools open.
Wayne Corey, who is a member of the Belfast withdrawal committee, said he had the opportunity to review the state subsidies that each town receives. He said he discovered that many of the smaller towns, such as Belmont, receive a large amount of subsidy, while Belfast receives a smaller portion compared to what it pays in taxes.
He continued by saying Belfast is in a better position to withstand cuts to the subsidies, while the smaller towns that receive more money from the state will be the ones most negatively impacted by the cuts. Corey then stated Belfast should be careful that the towns that receive larger subsidies don't look to the city to compensate for the loss in state funding.
As the towns consider withdrawing from the district, Sanders commented that RSU 20's consolidation proposals must also be taken into consideration. In November, RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter unveiled seven options for consolidating the district, with all of the options calling for the closure of schools.
Belfast withdrawal committee member Alan Wood voiced doubts there is enough support on the board of directors for RSU 20 to approve any of the proposed consolidation plans. He also expressed frustration with the board's seeming unwillingness to move forward more quickly with the consolidation process.
“We're taking too long,” Wood said of the consolidation discussions. “They're just drawing it out so much.”
Wood cited a lack of leadership from Carpenter as being part of the reason why discussions regarding the consolidation of the district are taking so long.
The first meeting of the think tank group is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 12, at 6 p.m. at City Hall. Sanders said the public is welcome to attend the meeting, but attendees will not be allowed to comment.
The Belfast withdrawal committee will meet Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 5 p.m. at City Hall.
Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.
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