MONMOUTH — Voters who take part in next month’s annual Town Meeting will decide once and for all whether they favor remaining with Regional School Unit 2 or withdrawing and returning to a town-run school system.
“Let’s get this resolved and bring this community back together,” said Ron Moody, chairman of the town’s RSU 2 withdrawal committee during a public hearing held on the town meeting warrant.
Moody’s committee has spent several months negotiating a withdrawal agreement with officials from RSU 2, which also includes Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell and Richmond.
The proposed agreement, which will go to voters during the referendum-style town meeting scheduled for June 11 at Cumston Hall, calls for the town to pay an additional $18,000 to the RSU for costs associated with creating proposals to replace the Henry L. Cottrell Elementary and Monmouth Middle schools. Voting on the proposed withdrawal agreement will take place from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The full withdrawal plan is available on the town’s website and will get another airing at an informational meeting scheduled for June 3 at Monmouth Academy. A time has not yet been set.
Moody has said the intention is for Monmouth to stand alone, should voters decide to withdraw from the RSU, but the town also could explore creating ties with nearby Winthrop, which currently belongs to an Alternative Operating Structure with Fayette.
Such an arrangement could benefit Monmouth, said withdrawal committee member Annya Rice, who also represents the town on the RSU 2 board. Rice said Monmouth’s middle school is currently third on the state’s school construction list, but state officials claim it could be a decade away.
“If something major happens in our school, do we want to see our kids bussed to Hall-Dale (in Farmingdale) or do we want them going to Winthrop?” Rice asked.
But resident Randy Schiller, whose grandchildren attend Monmouth schools, said joining forces with Winthrop would likely lead eventually to closing Monmouth schools in the interest of saving money.
“If that happens, I believe Monmouth as a community would shut down,” Schiller said.
Moody, former principal at Monmouth Academy, said the town at one time had earned a reputation for providing an education that ranked among the best in the state. That is no longer the case.
“It’s hard to determine what happened over the years, but at this point we need to address serious issues,” Moody said.
But Schiller’s wife said the RSU has already started improving education. Schiller said the RSU board maintained programs and services important to Monmouth residents, like introducing a foreign language program at the elementary school, despite severe budget constraints.
“We were at one time great. We slipped,” Schiller said. “We’re on the path to greatness again.”
Morever, Schiller argued, the RSU has been able to provide better education while spending less than the town would have spent on its own.
“If you want local control, get out. If you want to save money, you’ll stay in,” Schiller said. “We can’t afford to do that.”
The RSU 2 last week unanimously approved a budget of $24.4 million, which is $1.3 million or 5.6 percent higher than this year’s.
Because of a reduction in state subsidy, however, the amount to be paid by local taxpayers would increase by $1.7 million, or 13.8 percent. RSU 2’s projected state subsidy for next year is $10.4 million, leaving $14 million to be raised locally.
The major increases in costs include utilities, $100,000 to purchase laptops for students, $339,151 in teacher retirement contributions and about $250,000 from an 8 percent increase in health insurance premiums.
Moody said the withdrawal committee will have comprehensive budget information, including a comparative assessment of standing alone or remaining with the RSU, during the June 3 informational meeting.
Resident Steve Kolenda said local control is the only way to assure that the budget Monmouth residents are asked to support is one that they have approved. Kolenda said Monmouth’s portion of the RSU budget is expected to jump 11.2 percent next year, or more than $360,000.
“Even if people of this town vote to turn this down, we can be overridden by the rest of RSU 2,” Kolenda said. “We will not be able to control our future.”
Craig Crosby — 621-5642