Belgrade has set up a committee to review its relationship with Regional School Unit 18 after some residents expressed concern about how much the town pays to belong to the district.

The committee, which the Board of Selectpersons created at its regular meeting Tuesday, already has one new appointee, Penelope Morrell, a former board member.

The creation of the committee by a 3-2 vote follows a steady increase in school costs to Belgrade, although the number of Belgrade students attending the district’s schools has declined. RSU 18 is made up of Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney.

Selectpersons Ernest Rice, Bruce Plourd and Rick Damren voted in favor of creating the Belgrade/RSU 18 Review Committee. Selectmen Gary Mahler and Michael Barrett voted against it.

This year, the proposed $34.7 million school budget for the district was rejected in a ratification vote in May. Then enough voters on June 30 approved a $34.4 million budget to overcome its defeat in Belgrade, where selectmen had publicly opposed it again.

A document that defines the committee’s role states, “The funding formula for the RSU is structured such that Belgrade is paying a larger cost per student than other towns in the RSU.”

The new committee has a series of tasks that includes listing advantages and disadvantages of remaining in the district, looking at the state process of separating from the district, determining what administration would look like in a Belgrade School Department, and seeing whether surrounding districts would accept tuition students from Belgrade.

Applications to join the committee were being accepted in writing or via email at the Town Office, and six had been submitted as of noon Tuesday.

Committee membership is to include a selectperson; two members each from the Budget Committee and Belgrade Central School; a school board member from Belgrade; four residents of Belgrade, including at least two with children attending the school system; and a member of the district’s administration. Assistant Superintendent Carl Gartley was asked to join, and he indicated he was willing, provided the district approves.

A final report is anticipated by Town Meeting in March 2016.

The questions were created by a three-person committee that included Rice, chairman of the Board of Selectpersons; Howard Holinger, chairman of the Budget Committee, who first proposed the idea; and Rebecca Seel, an RSU 18 board member from Belgrade.

At a meeting in early August, Rice stated that it would not be a withdrawal committee. Seel on Thursday said state statute defines a withdrawal committee and includes a number of specific steps.

“This isn’t that process at all,” Seel said. “This is more of an internal committee to get a sense of where things stand with the financial relationship. This is intended to be a committee of Belgrade (residents) and the administration.”

Seel said she agreed to serve on the committee in order to get some clarification on the true cost per student to the town.

Holinger, who proposed forming the committee, had figured it was about $17,000 per student, but the district administration has said it is $9,000 to $11,000 per student.

The topic has proved divisive, pitting some parents of schoolchildren against other residents in the town at several meetings, including school budget meetings.

“I do think the folks opposing the budget won’t stop opposing it until they see that some study is done,” Seel said. “If citizens would feel Belgrade was getting the best deal from the RSU, maybe it could work more harmoniously.”

Seel has represented Belgrade on school boards for about seven years.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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