WISCASSET — This week’s referendum in Wiscasset is injecting uncertainty into Regional School Unit 12’s deliberations on cost-sharing and other matters.

Wiscasset residents voted 917-220 in favor of exploring a withdrawal from the RSU, a result that drove much of the discussion about a proposal to change the way the district’s costs are split among its eight towns.

Wiscasset would be the largest beneficiary of the proposed new distribution, while Palermo, Somerville and Windsor would owe significantly more.

Wiscasset pays the largest share, $4.8 million, of the RSU’s $13.7 million of local funding this year.

The school board discussed the proposal from the finance committee Thursday, but Superintendent Greg Potter recommended that they delay any action to allow the finance committee to explore various scenarios, including one without Wiscasset.

Some board members said the district has to move forward regardless of what might happen with Wiscasset.

“We can’t operate this RSU thinking that one town or another town is going to pull out,” Palermo representative Blake Brown said. “If a town pulls out, it’s more than the financial that has to be revisited, pretty much the whole plan has to be revisited. We can’t operate with that until it happens; we have to operate with what we have.”

Wiscasset hasn’t committed to anything, Whitefield representative Joan Morin said. Town residents can begin circulating a petition in January to begin the long, complex process of withdrawal.

“I don’t hear people saying, ‘Let’s pull away,’ yet,” Morin said. “They’re saying, ‘Let’s investigate.’ “

Somerville representative Chris Johnson said there needs to be a plan for the possibility of Wiscasset withdrawing if it appears the town will start that process.

“We can’t get to the point where something is done, if it is, and be in trouble having to scramble to adjust to that scenario,” he said.

The proposed cost-sharing plan would weigh a town’s student count and overall population at 50 percent each. It does not incorporate property valuation, which is part of the calculation for a town’s legally mandated minimum contribution.

The high-valuation towns in RSU 12’s south would benefit most from the proposal.

The plan also includes a “safety net” to adjust contributions gradually by capping the change up or down by 5 percent from each year to the next.

Wiscasset representative Eugene Stover called the safety net “socialist” because it uses money from some towns to cushion the blow for towns that will see their contributions rise.

“We are a community of retired people, and they’re concerned about this,” Stover said. “When we started this business of consolidation, we were going to decrease the cost of educating our students. And now we’ve seen an increase.”

The finance committee has recommended that the board take action on the cost-sharing proposal in January, with public hearings before and after that. Each town would have to vote in referendum or at town meeting if by the end of March if it is to be used in next year’s budget process.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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