BELFAST - School’s out in RSU 20, but advocates from six towns seeking to withdraw from the district are making a final push to get their agreements approved by district and state officials.
Attorney Kristin Collins, who represents municipal withdrawal committees in Belfast and Northport, asked the RSU 20 board on Tuesday to expedite process for approving withdrawal agreements for six towns that have them ready, or nearly ready, for review.
Collins said she recently learned that the state’s Department of Education had moved the deadline for approved withdrawal agreements forward. In order for the question to make it onto the November ballot, she said, the agreements would need to be approved by the RSU 20 board by the next regular meeting on July 8.
Five of the six towns are seeking to withdraw together and re-form as a new district in the mold of the former School Administrative District 34. Collins said those withdrawal plans would be contingent upon passage in all five towns.
Northport, the sixth town of the former SAD 34, would not be part of the group. Instead, the withdrawal committee is pursuing a town-run, K-8 school that would share administrative services with Union 69, the primary school district of Appleton, Hope and Lincolnville. RSU 20 board member Debra Riley, who serves on the Northport withdrawal committee, said her group’s agreement is “ready to go.”
Collins anticipated withdrawal plans of the five towns would be completed by the end of this week. She described them as similar to those approved by the RSU 20 board last year as part of a withdrawal bid by the six former SAD 34 towns.
For this reason, she urged the board to follow the same process as last year, in which the superintendent, board chairman and RSU 20 attorney negotiated agreements with the towns and brought those back to the board for approval.
“A lot of the negotiating work has been done,” she said.
This idea sat well with many board members. But others, including Stephen Hopkins of Belmont, pushed for forming an ad hoc committee of board members to review the withdrawal agreements in light of Northport’s decision to strike out alone.
“Everybody’s saying you’ve gotta get it done, you’ve gotta get it done,” he said. “But you’ve gotta get it done right.”
Collins held that forming a committee would slow down the process for no good reason. A number of board members agreed with Collins’ assertion that the process worked well last time and did not need to be changed.
Those on both sides of the committee question spoke in favor of a transparent process, though interpretations varied on how to accomplish that.
Some wanted the negotiations open to the public. Charlie Grey of Belfast noted that the agreements would ultimately have to come back to the board for final approval. He opposed forming a committee but said he reserved his right as a board member to review the withdrawal agreements before voting on them.
The topic was a last minute addition to the agenda, which precluded the necessary vote on it. However, Grey motioned to effectively suspend normal procedure in order to allow a vote. According to longtime board member Denise Dakin of Stockton Springs, this was unprecedented, but Grey’s motion got the required two-thirds vote.
A subsequent motion by Stockton Springs director Maxine Engstrom to form a negotiating committee of up to four board members was narrowly rejected. After several more procedural hurdles, the board approved what Chairman Anthony Bagley described as the “exact opposite” of the Engstrom’s motion.
This would allow the superintendent, board chairman and the RSU 20 legal counsel to negotiate with the six towns and bring any agreements back to the board for final approval. The board anticipated a final vote on July 8.
After the meeting, Collins said she believed a July 8 vote would satisfy Maine DOE’s timeline.
Ethan Andrews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org