MONMOUTH — After leading the two-year charge to extract the town’s schools from Regional School Unit 2, Ron Moody on Tuesday finally got the vote he was hoping for, but the result was all wrong.

Voters agreed by a vote of 537-399 to withdraw from the RSU, which also includes Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell and Richmond.

But the vote does not count because it fell 22 votes short of the 960 total required by state law to certify the vote. As a result, Monmouth will remain attached to the RSU.

“It almost makes you question democracy, I think,” Moody said. “You win, but you lose, and the people that have the least amount of votes win.”

If Monmouth ever is to withdraw from the RSU, it will require starting the process anew, beginning with a petition drive. That process cannot begin for at least two years, said Jim Rier, deputy commissioner of the Department of Education.

Just over 57 percent of the voters supported withdrawal, which is just short of the 60 percent required by state law to forgo the two-year waiting period and begin the withdrawal process immediately.

“I think it’s time to move on,” Moody said. “A lot of people are disappointed, but there are some things in this world we can’t do much about.”

Moody hopes residents will support the school system, particularly in light of Rick Amero’s announcement this week that he will step down as principal of Monmouth Academy to take a position at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield. Moody, a longtime educator and principal at the academy who has remained active with the academy, said Amero’s departure is a big loss to the school and the town.

“We have an excellent principal moving on,” Moody said. “There are unsettled feelings as far as the voting results, but there’s also a void. The school system is going to need this town.”

Jonathan Hamann, who helped lead the charge against the withdrawal effort, said the results have left him with mixed feelings. He is pleased Monmouth will remain attached to the RSU, but he is disappointed that the result contradicts the wishes of a majority of voters.

Adding to the confusion, Hamann said, is the fact that the town’s portion of the RSU 2 budget, which increased by nearly $600,000, won approval.

“It’s very confusing how it all landed,” Hamann said. “It still puts us in a pretty divisive position.”

Hamann said there had been discussions among those who favored remaining with the RSU about staying home on Tuesday in hopes that the vote would fail for lack of turnout. Ultimately, Hamann said both sides came to the conclusion that the best thing for the town would be the highest turnout possible. He said supporters worked to turn out the vote, even making signs and making phone calls.

“Our entire goal was to get the 960 total and get the majority. We didn’t get either of those,” Hamann said. “The result was still in our favor. We appreciate the outcome, but it wasn’t achieved the way we had hoped.”

At least six communities have withdrawn from RSUs since former Gov. John Baldacci began a state-wide drive in 2007 to force schools to consolidate. Until Tuesday, all of those schools had reached the minimum numbers of voters to certify the vote.

Previously a successful withdrawal required at least a two-thirds majority of voters, but there was no minimum turnout, Rier said. Legislators last year changed the law to allow a successful withdrawal with a simple majority of 51 percent or greater, but the law established a minimum number of voters.

The law is expected to expire in 2015, when it will revert to a supermajority without a minimum vote count.

Voters in Monmouth, and six communities in RSU 20 in the Midcoast, agreed Tuesday to withdraw from an RSU.

But Monmouth, like four of those RSU 20 communities, fell short of the minimum number of voters to certify the vote. Rier said threshold, based on 50 percent of the last gubernatorial election, is intentionally difficult to reach.

“It’s designed to get a good turnout,” he said.

Hamann said the future remains very much up in the air. He had already heard Wednesday morning that there was a renewed vow to continue to fight for withdrawal.

“I sincerely hope that isn’t the case,” Hamann said. “I hope we move on and everyone focuses in one direction.”

If in two years there is another effort to withdraw, Moody said he will not be involved. He has grown weary of the disagreements and grudges between neighbors the issue has created.

“I tried to give it my best shot to present the proper information they needed to make a wise decision,” Moody said.

He stopped short of committing to support the RSU. He said he hopes to sit down with Superintendent Virgel Hammonds and school board members to discuss his concerns, which include how the RSU chooses to spend its money.

“I feel as though to get quality education we need to spend money in the trenches with the teachers and kids,” Moody said. “I have a problem with the amount of money being spent in the central office.”

Moody also hopes RSU officials might give principals greater latitude to make decisions.

“We have a principal in the school 100 percent of the time,” Moody said. “Central office folks….are part time in Monmouth and they have other priorities. Sometimes you have to make a decision and you don’t have the person making a decision on site.”

Hammonds did not respond to an email seeking comment.

If the RSU fails to address those issues, Moody said he will “ride off into the sunset” rather than continue to actively pursue withdrawal, but he said it would be a mistake for administrators to believe Tuesday’s vote is an indication there are not issues to resolve.

“I want them to take heed of what the vote means,” he said. “Some people are very unhappy.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
[email protected]

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