Withdrawal committees tweak RSU 20 counter-proposal

Sub-committees forming to get out vote; present withdrawal facts
By Ben Holbrook | Feb 21, 2013

Belfast — Committee members made additional amendments to a withdrawal agreement plan with Regional School Unit (RSU) 20, and began the process of creating additional groups to help educate residents and encourage strong voter turnout during a meeting Wednesday, Feb. 13.

Belfast Attorney Kristin Collins walked committee members through the amendments she made to the original plan, which include requiring all six towns to vote to withdraw; RSU 20 to provide a full accounting of what equipment and other resources are needed to establish a new central office before any payments are made by the new school district; payments to RSU 20 be delayed until the undesignated fund balance is distributed between the two districts; and that the new district would not be responsible for paying its share of the RSU 20 superintendent's contract for the first year after withdrawing.

The original withdrawal agreement submitted to Attorney Dick Spencer, who represents RSU 20 called for all towns to vote to withdraw and to hold a second vote to reform together as one district. However, the counter-proposal offered by Spencer only required that all of the towns vote to withdraw, but not to reform.

Eric Sanders, Belfast withdrawal committee chairman, noted that the second vote asking residents whether they want to reform as a new school unit doesn’t require the same voter turnout as the vote asking residents if they wish to withdraw from RSU 20.

State law requires the total number of votes cast for and against withdrawal must equal or exceed 50 percent of the total votes cast in the town during the last gubernatorial election, with the majority voting in favor of withdrawal in order for it to pass.

Questions were then raised about whether mandating a specific voter turnout was constitutional. While Collins said she feels the law is poorly worded, she said voter turnout mandates are not unconstitutional and are done at the local, state and federal levels of government.

Committee members also raised some concern over the withdrawal agreement that would require the new school unit to pay its share of the RSU 20 superintendent contract costs. Under the original agreement submitted by Belfast, the new school unit would pay its portion of the contract if the contract were extended prior to July 1, 2014.

Collins said she felt it would be unlikely the district would sign a new contract with the superintendent prior to the withdrawal's taking effect. RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter’s contract expires in 2014.

Steve Hopkins RSU 20 Board of Directors member for Belfast and a member of the withdrawal committee, noted that the school board delayed any pay increases for Carpenter during the yearly evaluation because of his limited time serving as superintendent. However, Hopkins said there was a possibility the contract could be revisited before a budget vote is held.

With that news, committee members agreed to amend the agreement to not require the new school district to pay for any of the RSU 20 superintendent contract costs.

Collins, who had to leave the meeting early to attend a public hearing in Searsport, asked each committee to vote on the withdrawal agreement to authorize her to submit it to RSU 20.

Sub-committee discussion

Because voter turnout can determine whether withdrawal succeeds of fails based on the total number of votes cast, committee members discussed forming two separate sub-committees. One sub-committee, comprised of a member from each town pursuing withdrawal, would compile a frequently asked questions document, which could be distributed to residents.

The second sub-committee, which would be comprised of residents, would be responsible for encouraging people to go to the polls to vote on the withdrawal effort.

Dorothy Odell, who serves on Belfast’s withdrawal committee, raised some concerns about the “get out the vote” efforts, citing a possible conflict of interest on the part of committee members. Collins said she didn’t think there were any requirements for committee members to be impartial in regard to withdrawal.

Collins also noted that the people who choose not to vote would most likely be the same people who would vote “no” on withdrawing.

The committee responsible for creating an informational document concerning withdrawal is scheduled to meet Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 6:30 p.m. upstairs in the Searsmont Community Center.

Any residents interested in joining the committee responsible for promoting the withdrawal vote are encouraged to attend the meeting.

A six-town withdrawal meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 6:30 p.m. in Belfast City Hall. Committee members hope to present a copy of the frequently asked questions document during that meeting.

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

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