Withdrawal committees consider RSU 20 counter-proposal
Belfast — The withdrawal from Regional School Unit 20 process is picking up momentum after committee members received a counter-proposal from the district in regard to the agreement plan submitted in December.
Belfast attorney Kristin Collins walked committee members through the proposals submitted by RSU 20, highlighting specific issues where there was a significant difference between the two plans.
One of the differences, which committee members anticipated, was that RSU 20 would require all six towns to vote to withdraw, or the effort would fail. However, the district does not require the withdrawing towns to vote to reform as a new unit.
Belfast Committee Chairman Eric Sanders suggested amending the withdrawal agreement to require that five of the towns — Belfast, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont and Swanville — all vote in favor of withdrawal. Sanders suggested leaving Belmont out of the plan, as it is still unclear whether Belmont will join the other towns’ plan or submit its own.
Committee members ultimately agreed to offer RSU 20 a counter-proposal that would only require all of the withdrawing towns, with the exception of Belmont, to vote in favor of withdrawal.
RSU 20’s counter-proposal included language that would require the new district to pay its share of the superintendent’s salary and benefits if the contract is extended prior to July 1, 2014. Belfast’s withdrawal plan calls for towns to vote on leaving the district in June of 2013 with the withdrawal taking effect July 1, 2014.
Current RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter’s contract expires June 30, 2014.
Sanders suggested the new district could share in the cost of the superintendent through 2015, but former RSU 20 Superintendent Bruce Mailloux quickly pointed out that such an option would be expensive, as the new district would be paying for its own superintendent.
Collins noted that the withdrawal effort could impact RSU 20’s ability to negotiate a new contract with a superintendent because of uncertainty about what towns will remain in the district and the ability of those remaining towns to pay the contract.
Committee members agreed to further discuss their concerns with the proposal from
RSU 20 regarding the superintendent’s contract as part of the negotiating process.
Service contracts/payments to RSU 20
As part of the counter proposal offered by RSU 20, service contracts that can’t be easily divided, such as food services, would be shared between the existing district and new school district, with each paying their respective share of the costs.
Sharing service expenses was agreeable to committee members; however, a request by RSU 20 to have the new school district pay $50,000 to help establish a new central office raised concerns.
Mailloux suggested requiring a detailed plan from RSU 20, which would list the items the district needs to purchase in order to establish a new central office.
If the withdrawal is successful, Belfast would acquire the existing central office.
In addition to the $50,000 payment, RSU 20 requested a $35,000 payment to cover a portion of the renovation costs for the Sweetser building. Committee members agreed to the amount, noting that Sweetser is a revenue-generating facility.
While the amount the new district is willing to pay to RSU 20 will be discussed further, Mailloux reminded committee members that the new district will be unable to make any payments because it won’t have any funding as of July 1, 2014, which is when RSU 20 is requesting the payments.
Under the counter-proposal offered by RSU 20, any undesignated funds would be divided up according to each town’s share. However, before those funds can be distributed an audit must be completed. Collins suggested amending the agreement to stipulate that the payments would be made upon completion of the audit, which committee members agreed was reasonable.
An audit of potential savings conducted by Mailloux, Belfast Committee Treasurer Susan Woods, Carpenter and RSU 20 Business Manager Brian MacFarland discovered potential savings if the towns withdrew this year.
Mailloux said the former School Administrative District towns would have saved about $575,000 this year as a result of withdrawing. He noted that Carpenter and MacFarland did their own audit and there was only a $27,000 difference in the two budgets using their method, as opposed to the method used by Mailloux and Woods.
Belfast Board of Directors member Alan Wood questioned whether the cost savings could be projected into the future. Mailloux said it is “pretty much impossible” to project savings into the future, because of the uncertainty about state funding and other variables.
During a withdrawal meeting in Belmont Monday, Feb. 4, resident Eugene Newton refuted the cost savings presented, noting the savings were directly attributed to the share of the surplus funds the towns would receive if they withdrew from Regional School Unit 20. Newton said without surplus factored into the budget, the towns would actually pay slightly more in taxes.
Newton suggested the committee do a comparison of the costs of staying in Regional School Unit 20 versus the costs of withdrawing from the district
Mailloux acknowledged the cost savings do not include the terms of the recently approved teacher and support staff contracts, which call for salary increases for teachers based on their level of experience and education. The support staff contract includes increases in hourly rates based on years of service.
The next withdrawal meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 5 p.m. at Belfast City Hall.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at email@example.com.