The withdrawal process is moving ever closer to a June vote, with the next phase of the effort requiring a public hearing.

Residents will have the chance to ask questions regarding the withdrawal agreement between Regional School Unit 20 and the six towns seeking to leave the district. During a withdrawal budget subcommitee meeting, Eric Sanders, chairman of Belfast's withdrawal committee, said the meeting is only intended to address the plan. Residents will have another opportunity to address withdrawal during a separate public hearing held in each town.

Withdrawal agreement terms

 

The terms of the withdrawal agreement between Regional School Unit (RSU) 20 and the six towns seeking to leave — Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont and Swanville — requires that all of the towns vote on withdrawing, and that they vote to re-form as a new district.

A vote on whether to withdraw from RSU 20 is scheduled to take place during the budget referendum on June 12, while the vote on whether to re-form as a six-town district will happen at a later date.

In addition, state law requires that at least 50 percent of the voters who cast a ballot in the 2010 gubernatorial election to cast a ballot, either for or against withdrawal, in June. That means that at least 1,543 ballots must be cast in Belfast; 209 in Belmont; 204 in Morrill; 389 in Northport; 301 in Searsmont; and 268 in Swanville.

A simple majority is all that is required to either pass withdrawal or defeat it. Also, if a resident leaves the withdrawal question blank, but votes on other ballot questions, the ballot will not count towards the 50 percent requirement threshold.

The agreement requires all six towns to pass withdrawal or the effort will fail.

In addition to the requirement that all towns pass their withdrawal questions, the agreement also addresses payment for the RSU 20 superintendent’s contract and building renovation costs.

If RSU 20 votes to extend or renew the contract for the superintendent prior to withdrawal's taking effect, the new RSU will pay its share of the contract until June 30, 2015.

The agreement also requires the new district to pay RSU 20 $35,066 for its share of the new roof for the Sweetser building. The new district will also pay an itemized amount up to $50,000 for costs related to establishing a new RSU 20 central office.

Per the agreement, students who are currently enrolled in an RSU 20 school will have the option to continue attending the same school for one year after withdrawal takes effect July 1, 2014.

Cost analysis

An analysis of withdrawal by the six towns conducted by a finance subcommittee comprised of members from the larger withdrawal committees determined that the towns could save as much as $681,841 if withdrawal were to take effect this year. The cost savings were calculated based on the expenditure portion of the 2012-2013 RSU 20 budget.

The analysis does not take into account the teacher and support staff salary increases included in the recently negotiated contracts. It also does not include a reduction in state revenue, nor the possibility that the district will have to pay about $420,000 to cover teacher retirement costs.

A similar analysis conducted by RSU 20 officials determined the amount saved was $28,000 more than what the withdrawal finance subcommittee calculated. However, Anthony Bagley, chair of the RSU 20 School Board, challenged those figures during an information meeting in Belmont in March. At the time, he said the savings would be about $326,000, based on a carry-forward amount of $1.2 million.

The withdrawal finance subcommittee factored a carry-forward figure of $1.6 million into its cost analysis.

While cost savings between $326,000 and $681,000 have been presented, committee members have agreed to do an additional analysis using the 2013-2014 RSU 20 budget. Some committee members have also requested an independent audit be completed prior to the June vote to better determine the financial impact of withdrawal.

The withdrawal finance subcommittee was scheduled to meet Wednesday, May 1, at 6:30 p.m. in Belfast City Hall.

Correction: A previous version of this article indicated the public hearing scheduled for May 6 at the Belfast Area High School would allow residents to comment on the withdrawal process. The public hearing is only to address the language in the withdrawal agreement. Separate public hearings will be scheduled in each town at a later date to give voters the opportunity to discuss the issue.

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