Voters in Windsor and Palermo will vote Tuesday on whether to withdraw from Regional School Unit 12, an issue fraught with conflicting concerns about cost, quality and local control.

The towns are among 10 statewide from Freeport to Belfast that will take up withdrawal next week. Nine communities have already withdrawn from school districts created after Maine’s school consolidation law took effect in 2009.

RSU 12, a vast district stretching from Palermo in Waldo County to the Lincoln County coast and also made up of Somerville, Alna, Chelsea, Whitefield and Westport Island, has already lost Wiscasset, which withdrew earlier this year.

Now it faces the prospect of losing two more towns, where there are opposing factions. People supporting withdrawal say it’s the only way to zero in on educational cost-drivers and control them locally, while opponents say the towns would lose financial and educational economies of scale, hurting students.

“I’m not sure how a small, standalone school district could provide the same quality,” said Howard Tuttle, RSU 12’s superintendent.

In the short term, one thing isn’t debatable: Withdrawal would be costly, as towns would have to hire central office staff and assume responsibilities for their respective K-8 schools.

Withdrawal efforts have been stoked in both towns partially by cost increases, including a district cost-sharing formula change that raised the towns’ contributions to the RSU in 2012, when withdrawal efforts kicked off.

But data crunched by withdrawal opponents — using state and district figures — paints a bleak ongoing picture for the towns if they leave: Windsor would likely pay $377,000 more than if it stayed in the first year, while Palermo could pay $130,000 more.

William Sugg, a board member from Palermo, is against withdrawal, saying “it’s going to be a sticker shock if we withdraw.” But Dick Reitchel, the town’s other member, supports it. He said costs have been going up anyway, and in a smaller district, the town could nail the sources of increases down “and find out why and how.”

But Jerry Nault, an RSU 12 board member from Windsor, said the district is largely being blamed for larger statewide issues related to education funding. He opposes withdrawal, works as business manager for Newport-based Regional School Unit 19 and helped prepare the cost estimates.

“We’re the point guy in the patrol,” Nault said of the RSU. “So the person most susceptible to being shot is the point guy.”

Moreover, he said “not everybody is driven by the same concerns” in the towns, referencing the other side’s preference for local control.

Ray Bates, a Windsor selectman and town withdrawal committee member who is running for the Maine House of Representatives as a Republican, said he’s “voting to get out regardless” of cost “because I am unhappy with the size of the RSU.”

“I believe in smaller government, closer to the people,” he said.

Students won’t have to switch schools if the towns withdraw. Now, most high schoolers in Windsor and Palermo — school-choice towns — go to Erskine Academy in South China.

That shouldn’t change. Palermo has inked an agreement to make Mt. View High School in Thorndike its high school of record if it withdraws, but most probably won’t go there.

Tuttle, the superintendent, said teachers will lose the ability to collaborate with others at district schools and the towns will be exposed to costs they may not anticipate.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.