There’s more than one way to find out how the public feels about the RSU 20 school reorganization proposal.

That was the message that the RSU 20 school board sent at its meeting Tuesday night, Sept. 27, when a motion to schedule the non-binding referendum aimed at seeking public opinion on the proposal failed. The meeting was held at Searsport District High School.

Had the motion passed, RSU 20 Superintendent Bruce Mailloux said, the vote would have been set for Tuesday, Nov. 8.

As part of the school reorganization proposal, the district would close many outlying elementary schools, and would consolidate its two middle schools and two high schools into one of each.

Since the concept was unveiled last spring, the board has scheduled public forums in all of the nine district towns and had also intended to hold the non-binding referendum this fall as an additional means of gauging public opinion.

Mailloux said the motion to set the date for the referendum failed, in part, because board members wanted to write the question that would have been posed to voters at the ballot box, but struggled with how best to word it.

“You’ll never get agreement when you have that many people with mixed feelings,” said Mailloux.

Some board members, Mailloux said, also expressed concern about uninformed members of the public who might have voted in the affirmative based solely on the estimated savings that would result from school reorganization.

The majority of board members, according to the superintendent, expressed that they did not feel comfortable with seeking public opinion in that manner.

“We’re going to seek public input in other ways,” said Mailloux.

Surveying the public online or through mailings that would go out with the district’s fall newsletter are some ways that could be accomplished, said Mailloux, and the collection of feedback at the scheduled school reorganization forums will continue.

The school reorganization concept may or may not be implemented in the form in which it is currently being presented, but Mailloux stressed that similar proposals will come before the public again because of the grim financial future that many Maine school systems are facing.

“That’s going to require significant action in some form in order to maintain quality of education,” he said.

At the most recent school reorganization forums, Mailloux said RSU 20 residents have offered many suggestions for alternatives to the current proposal. The problem, said the superintendent, is that many of those ideas won’t produce enough of a savings to close budget gaps that have grown from thousands of dollars in the past to millions of dollars in more recent years.

“Those are huge numbers,” said Mailloux. “No one wants to necessarily face reality, but we’re going to have to do something.”