The withdrawal agreement plan for the six towns looking to leave Regional School Unit 20 received additional amendments, as school board members were urged to review the plans and take a vote.

One of the concerns expressed by the withdrawal committees from each of the six towns is that RSU 20 has been slow in responding to the plan submitted by Belfast. Any delay in the process of approving the plan could jeopardize the ability to hold the withdrawal vote in June.

In an effort to encourage the RSU 20 board to vote on the plans, Belfast withdrawal committee vice chairman Steve Hutchings appealed to city councilors during a meeting Tuesday, March 5, to ask that school board members keep the process moving.

“We need school board members to push this,” Hutchings told councilors.

While Mayor Walter Ash Jr. acknowledged the city has contributed a significant amount of money to the withdrawal effort — up to $50,000 — he said there wasn’t a lot the council could do.

Councilors Mike Hurley and Roger Lee, however, said the people should decide whether to withdraw or not, and that the issue needs to go to the polls in a timely manner.

Belfast Attorney Kristin Collins told committee members during a meeting Wednesday, March 6, said she thinks the June referendum vote can still take place, as long as the RSU 20 board votes to approve the agreement plans this month.

The RSU 20 board was scheduled to vote on Belfast’s agreement plan Tuesday, March 12.

While considering the logistics of holding the June Vote, Tony Swebilius, who serves on the RSU 20 board and Morrill’s withdrawal committee, asked for clarification regarding the ability of board members to vote on their own town’s withdrawal agreement.

The question was raised because committee members were unclear whether only the RSU 20 board member serving on a withdrawal committee is prevented from voting on their own town’s plan, or if all of the school board members representing a withdrawing town are unable to vote on their own town’s plan.

In most cases, there would not be an issue with a school board member not voting on their own town’s withdrawal plan. However, Belfast, which holds six seats on the RSU 20 board, could pose a problem if all six members are prevented from voting on the withdrawal agreement for the city.

Because each vote is weighted, concerns were raised that the board would not have a quorum if the six Belfast members were prevented from casting a vote.

A quorum of the board is 50 percent plus one, according to former RSU 20 Superintendent Bruce Mailloux.

While no definitive answers regarding the issue of voting were given, Collins suggested Swebilius should refer the question to RSU 20 Attorney Dick Spencer for clarification.

Withdrawal agreement revisions

For the most part, the withdrawal agreement drafted for each of the six towns remained relatively unchanged, with the exception of a few adjustments.

The terms of the revised agreement plan require all six towns to vote to withdraw, and then vote to reform as a new district, otherwise the withdrawal effort will be nullified.

The plan also allows students in grades nine through 12 enrolled at an RSU 20 school at the end of the 2014-2015 year to continue to attend an RSU 20 school until they graduate. The plan also allows students in grades nine through 12 enrolled in a new RSU school at the end of the 2014-2015 year to continue attending the new RSU school until they graduate.

Payments to RSU 20 and the superintendent’s contract were also debated Wednesday evening, as committee members reviewed updated terms in the agreement plan.

Previously, the agreement plan eliminated a request by RSU 20 for the new district to pay its share of the superintendent’s contract if the contract was extended prior to the June 11 withdrawal vote.

Committee members concerned about the cost of paying the RSU 20 superintendent and the new district’s superintendent voted to remove any language requiring the new district to pay a portion of the RSU 20 superintendent contract.

However, during Wednesday’s meeting, committee members agreed to pay the contract for only one year beyond 2014 if it is extended prior to the June 11 vote.

Another contentious point in the withdrawal agreement was how much money the new district would pay to RSU 20 to establish a new central office, and when those payments would be made. The amended agreement requires the new district pay RSU 20 the actual costs — up to $50,000 — of establishing the new RSU 20 central office.

Under the terms of the agreement, the payment would be made once the new district receives its share of the undesignated fund balance from RSU 20. However, Collins said both RSU 20 Chairman Tony Bagley and Superintendent Brian Carpenter were not on board with the new district making post-withdrawal payments. Therefore, Collins suggested the payments could be made using tax anticipation notes.

Following the run down of the changes to the agreement plan, the committees for Belfast and Morrill voted to approve the changes. The committees from Belmont, Northport, Searsmont and Swanville will vote on the changes during their next meetings.

The next six-town withdrawal meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m. at Belfast City Hall.

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

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