MONMOUTH — Voters at the annual Town Meeting in June will either get a chance to begin the process of withdrawing from Regional School Unit 2 or decide, once and for all, that they are staying put.

The vote is in response to a petition filed with selectmen this week that asks voters whether they wish to withdraw from the school district, which also serves Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell and Richmond, and allows the town to borrow as much as $15,000 in the withdrawal process.

“It’s a good opportunity to help us all move forward,” said Superintendent Virgel Hammonds. “Either we’ll move forward together, or they will decide to withdraw, and we’ll work together for that.”

The petition handed into the town last week has 239 signatures — 192 were required for validation — gathered during roughly four weeks, said resident Ron Moody, one of four primary gatherers. Selectmen authorized the petition to be included on the town warrant. A public hearing on the warrant is scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 2 at Cumston Hall. There will be second public hearing focusing on the withdrawal on May 16 at which the board of directors and town’s RSU Fact Finding Committee will be invited to provide input, said Town Manager Curtis Lunt.

Monmouth schools operated independently until 2009, when the town joined RSU 2 as part of the Maine Department of Education’s statewide consolidation mandate. Residents have balked at decisions made by the regional school board — perhaps most notably its decision to eliminate Monmouth Academy’s industrial arts program.

More than 70 percent of the 650 residents who took part in a vote last June supported exploring leaving the school district. Selectmen formed the RSU Fact Finding Committee in response to that vote.

The committee, which was asked to explore the effects of both remaining with the school district and withdrawing and reorganizing with other communities in an alternative organizational structure, called an AOS, released its report earlier this year.

Moody, who was a member of that committee, said residents who signed the withdrawal petition continue to doubt the benefits of sticking with RSU 2. Residents’ concerns beyond the torpedoed industrial arts program include the switch to standards-based education, a new education model that aims to eliminate age-based grade levels and give students more time and flexibility in showing they understand certain concepts.

Moody said residents bemoan the loss of local control.

“I think that was almost unanimous,” Moody said. “They couldn’t understand why they had to lose their buildings.”

Moody, a former principal at Monmouth Academy who once served on the town’s board of selectmen, said Monmouth and other communities were bullied into regionalization by former Gov. John Baldacci, who threatened financial penalties against certain-sized towns that failed to join a regional school unit. Those potential penalties have since been tossed, but only after Monmouth voted to join RSU 2.

The cost savings Baldacci promised with the school consolidation effort have not materialized, Moody said.

“He said he wanted to cut down on the number of superintendents,” Moody said. “It certainly did, but it didn’t decrease cost any because of the number of people working in the main offices.”

But, Hammonds said, Monmouth’s schools have benefited from significant facility and technology upgrades since joining the school district. The town is near the top of a state’s list for a new middle school, a standing that could be jeopardized if voters opt to withdraw. Hammonds also pointed to a number of partnerships with local businesses that provide students with new and varied learning experiences.

“What I see in Monmouth has been tremendous,” Hammonds said. “The staff and the community in Monmouth have been fantastic. I’m hearing from parents and students that relish the opportunities and improvement. I’m hoping that trend continues as part of the RSU as a whole.”

Hammonds encouraged residents to carefully review the report produced by the town’s fact finding committee. A copy of the report is available at the town office and at the town’s website, www.monmouthme.govoffice2.com.

“I thought it was well done and covered a lot of bases,” he said.

If a simple majority of voters decide in June to withdraw from RSU 2, it would kick off a lengthy process that could take years to complete. According to the fact finding committee, one part of the multi-step withdrawal process requires towns to negotiate reimbursements to the school district for real estate and other costs, such technology or facility upgrades, incurred by the district during its management period.

“The cost could be substantial and cannot be precisely determined until the withdrawal agreement has been fully written, approved by the education commissioner, and subjected to public hearings,” said attorney Clifford Goodall, whose withdrawal memo to Richmond selectmen is cited in the report prepared by the Monmouth committee. “Additional costs that need to be considered, on an estimated basis, would also include the cost to join another (school district).”

Once the state and town have agreed on terms of the withdrawal, residents must approve the plan. That vote requires at least a two-thirds majority to finalize the withdrawal.

Moody is unsure what voters will decide in June, but he thinks it is important to find out.

“A lot of the people I talked with hadn’t really made up their minds,” Moody said. “There were a few people adamant about it, but there are those who had not made up their minds but they wanted to sign the petition to have a vote. If we’re going to stay in, let’s get behind it and make it the best system we possibly can. That’s how I feel about it.”

Craig Crosby–621-5642

[email protected]


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