MONMOUTH — The town would have to pay Regional School Unit 2 an extra $18,000 under terms of a withdrawal agreement set to go to voters in June.

The 11-page contract, hammered out by town and RSU 2 officials over the past several months, is set for a pubic hearing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Monmouth Academy gymnasium.

The agreement details the process the town and RSU would follow and their responsibilities should voters decide to separate from the union. That vote is scheduled to take place during the annual Town Meeting in June.

“I don’t have a feel for how this vote is going to go,” said Ron Moody, chairman of the town’s withdrawal committee. “There was a time I thought I did, but things change. This community has changed quite a bit.”

Monmouth schools operated independently for generations until voters agreed in 2009 to join forces with Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell and Richmond, when then-Gov. John Baldacci’s administration threatened financial penalties against communities that failed to consolidate.

Selectmen and residents balked at decisions made by the regional school board — perhaps most notably its decision to eliminate Monmouth Academy’s industrial arts program — though publicly expressed dissatisfaction has waned since the arrival of Superintendent Virgel Hammonds in July 2011.

Voters decided to negotiate a withdrawal agreement in June 2012. The town established a withdrawal committee to negotiate with RSU 2 officials. The state Department of Education recently approved the agreement, which will go back to voters for final approval.

The town owes the RSU more than $78,000, spread over seven years for its share of upgrades at Richmond High School. The town also owes more than $257,000 for a loan the RSU gave the town in 2009 to pay teachers through the summer. The withdrawal agreement requires the town to pay off that debt by July 2014 if voters agree to pull out of the RSU.

Moody said the bills must be paid regardless of whether the town withdraws from the RSU.

“We own our share of that,” Moody said. “We’re prepared to do that.”

He said the only additional cost the town would incur if it decides to withdraw is $17,500, which is what remains unpaid of the RSU’s preliminary expenses associated with proposals to replace the Henry L. Cottrell Elementary School and Monmouth Middle School.

Both schools are on the state’s list for replacement. Moody said the middle school is third on that list. There is no way of knowing how a decision to withdraw might affect that ranking, he said.

“Nobody knows the definitive answer to that question, because it’s not been tested,” Moody said. “Everybody we talked said we’d have an excellent chance of retaining that standing, but I don’t have a crystal ball.”

The agreement does not include a plan for joining forces with another community, such as Winthrop, under an alternative operating structure (AOS), should voters decide to withdraw from RSU 2. Moody said officials think that under current state law, Monmouth can stand alone, as it did prior to 2009.

“That doesn’t mean down the road the town of Monmouth couldn’t seek a different proposal with an AOS,” he said.

Moody said shrinking state and federal support make it impossible to predict what the town will pay for education, but those questions exist whether voters agree to go it alone or remain with the RSU.

“Will it cost us more to go alone? Yes, it will,” Moody said. “The question is will the cost alter your vote, or is it more important to have local control? Those are the choices.”

Moody said given a chance at local control, there is a plan in place to provide a quality education.

“I think we’re prepared to answer that,” he said. “Monmouth has always been a quality school. We would anticipate we could do that again.”

 

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
ccrosby@mainetoday.com