Belfast prepared to move forward with withdrawal plan

Morrill only town to commit to Belfast plan
By Ben Holbrook | Sep 11, 2012

Belfast — Belfast will begin drafting a plan for withdrawal from RSU 20, despite receiving a commitment from only one of the five other towns exploring the issue to join the city in re-forming School Administrative District 34.

Morrill is the only town that has agreed to join with Belfast. During previous withdrawal meetings, Belfast Committee Chairman Eric Sanders asked the other committees to decide to commit to Belfast’s plan or pursue their own options by Sept. 10.

Currently, all of the former SAD 34 towns –– with the exception of Swanville – have successfully voted to explore withdrawing from Regional School Unit 20. Swanville’s vote was ruled invalid by the state because of improper language on the ballot.

Belmont passed a withdrawal referendum by a vote of 12 in favor to four against during a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, Sept. 4, and Swanville will hold a re-vote later this month.

Since neither Belmont nor Swanville have official committees, representatives from both towns declined to say whether they would join Belfast's plan.

One of the concerns expressed over the course of the withdrawal process so far is how much a withdrawal will cost taxpayers. That concern came to the forefront again during the Sept. 10 meeting, when several committees were hesitant to make a commitment due to questions about costs.

Northport Committee member Deb Riley said her committee is seeking a 90-day extension from the state, because the members agreed they needed more time to research before committing to a specific plan.

As part of the research process, Riley said, the committee approached Lincolnville about the possibility of sending students there, but were informed that wouldn’t be an option because the school is full.

She said there was also discussion about forming an Alternative Organization Structure for kindergarten through fifth-grade students. If the committee pursues an AOS, Riley said, the town would need to tuition the rest of its students to another school.

Without a firm commitment from all six of the towns, Belfast may run into difficulties when negotiating for use of the school buildings, which are owned by RSU 20. Former Superintendent Bruce Mailloux has cautioned Belfast in the past that it would be difficult to successfully negotiate for the buildings without support from the other towns, because there wouldn’t be an incentive to relinquish ownership.

However, with enough towns supporting the withdrawal effort, Mailloux said, the district would be financially unable to maintain the buildings and, as a result, would be more willing to negotiate with the towns.

Belfast Attorney Kristin Collins suggested moving forward with drafting a plan with the assumption that all six towns will join. She said one of the advantages of drafting a plan now is that it would give each town time to file for an extension from the state if they aren’t happy with what is created.

Searsmont committee member Bruce Brierley agreed that Belfast should move forward on a plan, because the committee is already ahead of other committees.

“I would like to see Belfast’s plan. Somebody has to go ahead and create a plan,” he said.

Several parents who were in attendance at the meeting questioned why some committees were hesitant to join with Belfast because the committees are charged by law to create a withdrawal plan.

Collins said she was getting the impression that many of the committees feel they are being rushed, and it might be possible to address issues with time constraints. Sanders suggested moving forward with drafting a plan and requesting a commitment from the other towns by early October.

The Belfast committee will begin drafting a plan Monday, Sept. 17, at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall. Other town committees are encouraged to attend to participate in the planning process.

Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at

Comments (12)
Posted by: Debora Riley | Sep 16, 2012 01:25

Northport's whole RSU 20 Withdrawal Committee is working on getting answers to many questions. It isn't true I'm flat out against withdrawal, it is true I believe we need more information to allow the voters to make an informed decision on Northport's Plan it will submit to the Dept. of education for approval, make any necessary changes, and after final approval by the DOE, the voters WILL decide. Personally, I will cast my vote in the ballot box, like the rest of the voters, & that's where it should be left, in my opinion.

Posted by: Debora Riley | Sep 13, 2012 15:53

I wasn't impling any sort of "unexpected bill" for the debt services on the school buildings. As was stated, the debt service owed on the school buildings follows the towns/city whatever they decide to do educationally with their students. Northport's citizens are involved and we have an excellent committee exploring the withdrawal options as was directed by the voters.

The towns/city will need to negotiate with the RSU school board to gain control of the schools. It's unlikely it'll be for free. Some of the older schools that haven't had major renovations over the years might go fairly inexpensively. Again, it's complicated. That's why each town/city has to negotiate with the school board itself.

The State, in its infinite wisdom, made it very difficult to withdraw from an RSU. It is possible, but takes lots of planning and hard work. Belfast is well on its way. They're further ahead of the towns considering withdrawal. It may be the former MSAD # 34 is reunited into another school system, it's just a bit too soon to know yet.

Posted by: Gene Newton | Sep 13, 2012 08:35

Debt service is actually separate. Belfast would need to negociate with the RSU for local control of the schools.  It in no way is required to be free.  Look around the state at other negociations and you'll see that.

Posted by: Charles Hamm | Sep 12, 2012 20:28

Not sure how many times I need to point this out, but here goes again. The debt service on the former SAD34 buildings will follow the towns in former SAD34 no matter what happens. Stay in the RSU, leave, the debt service will continue to follow those towns. Deb implies that the towns will have some kind of unexpected bill all of a sudden if they withdraw. Prove it. As I understand it from our consultants and lawyer, the three year sharing period is over. Northport is behind the eight ball, so to speak and I hope it's citizens of that town get involved. Searsmont, Morrill and Belfast are committed to working on a plan together and we would love to include all the towns of former SAD34.

Posted by: Harold Richardson | Sep 12, 2012 16:36

I think we all here understand the ownership issues.  RSU20 has no use for the Belfast buildings if Belfast is not part of the RSU so there is leverage on both sides if there is a Belfast withdrawal.  Hopefully the new approach from RSU20 will find some legitimate uses for these buildings and better yet increase some revenues other than taxes.  The problem I have is that if enrollment continues to drop, at what point does everyone agree that it is too wasteful to maintain all these buildings.  Every dollar that is spent maintaining waste is a dollar that could be spent improving a kids education.  The kids are the losers when money is wasted.   

Posted by: Debora Riley | Sep 12, 2012 15:43

Based on 9/11/12's RSU # 20 school board meeting, the new superintendent and school board are looking at ways to increase the use of the under enrolled schools that would actually bring revenue into the school system, as well as providing early intervention for children, so any issues are identified early, worked on early, and maybe would keep a child from needing special education services later in their education. To my way of thinking, this is a bold and necessary step forward to address the under used schools in the RSU, which wouldn't involve sending ANY former MSAD # 34 students to the former MSAD # 56 schools. The citizens have been heard by the school board.

As for Belfast owning the school buildings in Belfast, Belfast didn't own them under MSAD # 34. None of the towns with schools in them own the school buildings. They belong to the school system. It's far too complicated to go into detail here, but should anyone like to know there's debt associated with many of the school buildings, especially in Belfast, and the towns would be liable to pay their portion of that debt if they were to withdraw. Just more to consider as we try to decide what we want to have happen.   

Posted by: Harold Richardson | Sep 12, 2012 13:40

Forget the highest per student and just look at the tax rates.  People in Belfast shouldn't have to pay to keep these under utilized schools open just so these towns can keep their "sense of community." Belfast students shouldn't have to face the prospect of being bussed all over the county to even things out either when the problem lies elsewhere.  The people in Belfast pay a higher tax rate to have these local schools and I think they should have local control over them.  The fact that these school board members of RSU 20 can keep these buildings from Belfast is exactly the reason to get a divorce.  We should control our own destiny, and taxes.  I am not against paying for the schools.  I am against paying for waste.  RSU 20 doesn't seem to have the ability to make the tough decisions regarding the school consolidations and that is wasted money.  Probably the result of all of this will be a new RSU 34.  That's fine with me-I just think in the long run the city would have been better off a different way.      

Posted by: Debora Riley | Sep 12, 2012 13:07

In the "old MSAD # 34" I believe Northport, which paid the second highest amount to the school system, just behind Belfast, paid the highest per student amount to educate their students. So, Belfast didn't get a "shellacking", Northport did. I agree, this is a once in a hundred years chance to get it right, but I'm representing Northport. The State determines the amount each town must pay into the school system, any school system it's in, based on evaluation. So, changing school systems doesn't change the State's evaluation on property in each town/city. Just something to think about as everyone considers what they want to see happen.


Posted by: Gene Newton | Sep 12, 2012 12:16

Why would the current RSU 20 give the BAHS, THMS, CASS, East Side Schools back to the city of Belfast if they are to go it alone?  The answer is they won't without a fee.  That amount is going to be based on whether any other towns leave and it will pay back towns comprising the former SAD 56 that lost millions over the past three years in this marriage.  You can want this divorce but who can afford it?

Posted by: Harold Richardson | Sep 12, 2012 11:49

I call shenanigans on that argument.  RSU 20 has no use for the Belfast schools if Belfast kids are not part of RSU 20.  That type of talk is exactly why Belfast should control their own destiny and go it alone.  They should certainly welcome all the area towns kids, but by tuition.  The people in the area towns are all good people I'm sure, but as part of a combined RSU they will be spending for the most part Belfast tax dollars.  Let them educate their own kids from K-6 and then send the rest to Belfast by tuition.  Belfast then controls their own pocketbook and their own destiny.  One of the problems with the new RSU 20 as I see it is that there are several schools that are 1/2 full.  People don't want to close their neighborhood schools.  I understand that feeling but the good citizens of Belfast shouldn't be paying for that.  A newly reformed RSU 34 will face the same problems and if we don't want city taxes to go even higher than they are now, they will need to close some of those under utilized buildings in any case.       

Posted by: Gene Newton | Sep 12, 2012 08:58

Belfast would have a great difficulty in doing a stand alone.  They don't own any schools to send their kids too. 

Posted by: Harold Richardson | Sep 11, 2012 16:23

Other than being a taxpayer in Belfast I have no particular interest in what is decided with this proposed reorganization.  It does seem to me though that the City of Belfast would be far, far better off doing a stand alone RSU and accept all the other area towns as tuition students only.  If it just goes back to the old RSU 34 Belfast will for sure get stuck paying more than its fair share and the smaller towns will continue to have under utilized schools that they won't want to close or consolidate.  This is a once in a hundred years chance to get this right and I hope it goes the right way.

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