MONMOUTH — The group working on the town’s withdrawal from Regional School Unit 2 is putting the finishing touches on the town’s proposal to school administrators.

Developing the document is an important first step, said Selectman Douglas Ludewig, who is on the town’s withdrawal committee.

But the proposal will likely face multiple changes as the withdrawal committee and school district, and their attorneys, negotiate a final proposal to put to the voters. The district also includes Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell and Richmond.

“There’s a ways to go yet,” Ludewig said during Wednesday’s selectmen’s meeting. “It’s going to be a long process.”

And the process will continue despite a petition submitted during Wednesday’s meeting asking selectmen to vacate the June vote that spawned the withdrawal process. Dozens of residents said they didn’t understand the question on the ballet.

“I’m still having conversations daily with people who didn’t understand that the vote was about withdrawal,” said resident Amy Dolan, who submitted the petition to the board.

The withdrawal committee is expected to finalize the town’s proposal during a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the town office. The proposal will then be given to board of directors of RSU 2. The board is expected to discuss the proposal at its next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 6, at the Henry L. Cottrell Elementary School.

The committee’s proposal would give the town a year to prepare leaving the school district should voters give final approval for withdrawal.

Resident Michelle Neal asked selectmen for an advance copy of the agreement, but board members debated whether the draft document is available for public release.

“I certainly would like to know what’s being negotiated,” Neal said.

The board ultimately agreed to ask the town attorney. Copies of the draft have been available to residents who attend withdrawal committee meetings, but the drafts must be returned when the meetings are over.

The town will only withdraw if voters approve the proposal hammered out by the town and the school district. The withdrawal committee hopes to have that final document ready in time for a vote at the annual town meeting next June. Annya Rice, who represents Monmouth on the RSU board and serves on the town’s withdrawal committee, said there will be several public hearings on the final proposal before it goes to voters.

“We want to make this as transparent as possible,” she said.

But Dolan said that is not the perception among some in the community. The petition she submitted was signed by residents who believe the June ballet questions failed to make it clear that it would start withdrawal process rather than just continue efforts to gather information about the town’s options for leaving the RSU.

The state’s Department of Education has crafted a boilerplate ballot question and requires towns voting on withdrawal to include wording that is “substantially” similar. The state’s example includes the words, “for withdrawal.” The ballot presented to Monmouth residents in June failed to include those two words.

Department of Education officials, in accepting results of the June vote, said the ballet question had a “significant omission.”

“Those two words led to huge confusion,” Dolan said. “This is coming across as very underhanded, that it was done to deceive.”

Dolan’s petition had 64 signatures, which is well short of the 90-plus required by town statute, but she said it is evidence that a sizable segment of the community failed to understand the question on the ballot. Dolan said all the signatures were the result of conversations she had with people rather than a concerted effort to canvass the community.

The petition asked the board to vacate the results of the June vote and start the process over, but Department of Education and town officials have said that such a move would be illegal. Selectmen told Dolan the process can only be stopped by a court order.

“We can’t reverse something that’s already voted on,” said Selectman Darlene Sanborn. “We can’t change history.”

Selectman Harold Jones said the withdrawal ballot question was the result of a petition. The petition was approved by the town attorney before selectmen accepted it.

“In my mind the petition that was presented was substantially correct in form and manner and could not be kept off the ballot,” Jones said. “Nothing improper was done. We can’t go back and negate the vote. We can’t stop the process.”

 

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