OAKLAND — The Regional School Unit 18 school board has voted to authorize a new review of the current cost-sharing formula used by the district to determine what each town will pay after a petition was circulated asking for the committee to reconvene just two months after settling on the numbers.

The district creates an ad hoc committee every five years with three voting members from each of its five towns, which are China, Rome, Oakland, Sidney and Belgrade. The formula is used to determine how much each town needs to raise in local funds for the district.

“This vote to reconsider is something we have not dealt with before,” Superintendent Gary Smith said. “I have watched a lot of these across the state and, to my knowledge, I have not seen a school, so quickly after a group wrapped up its work, decide to come back together and revisit things.”

Last year a cost-sharing committee met four times and voted on Dec. 1 to keep the formula as it was, which weighed property valuation at 75 percent and student count at 25 percent.

The committee struggled to decide what was fair and equitable for all towns, as a change in either factors would affect Rome and Belgrade one way, and Oakland, China and Sidney in another.

Because of Belgrade and Rome’s low student counts and high property valuations, some committee members see the current formula — or any formula weighing property valuations heavily — as unfair. However, a swing toward student counts would cost the other three towns hundreds of thousands of dollars.

However, some members of the committee felt the work wasn’t done or that the vote wasn’t valid.

Committee and school board member Andrew Cook, of Rome, wrote that the towns were insufficiently represented at the final meeting when the vote was taken. According to Cook, the district’s reorganization plan says that each municipality must have two representatives at the meetings.

Cook wrote the comments on a website used by the committee to share comments and files, called Basecamp.

While the draft minutes of the last meeting on Dec. 1 that are on Basecamp do not show who attended, Cook wrote that both China and Rome were missing one representative each.

Smith also said in an interview Thursday that “there were some key people not there that evening.”

School board Chairman Jim Isgro said during the meeting that he reads the plan differently.

Cook circulated a petition to reconvene the committee that was signed by a number of the committee members themselves.

Isgro wrote a statement on the petition, saying that the “tone and behavior behind this initiative has been unbecoming” and that it is “defective.” Isgro said many of the claims arguing that the committee’s work is not done or was not done properly — in his words, that it “favored very few” and that members were “not allowed to speak freely” — are “fallacious” statements.

He also argued against the claim that because a formal motion wasn’t made, the committee is still active, quoting “Robert’s Rules of Order,” one of the most common set of rules for running a meeting.

“We have contacted counsel and reviewed this extensively,” Smith said. “The work of the first committee concluded properly.”

At Wednesday night’s board meeting, board member Tom Burton, of Oakland, made the motion to authorize a new review of the formula, starting the cost-sharing committee process over again.

“There was some concern on the board and frustration over how it ended,” Burton said after the meeting. “This will put that frustration to bed.”

This past committee was only the second to review the formula.

Smith will ask towns once again to choose two people to send as representatives on the cost-sharing committee. “It really takes a lot of work to educate the committee about what cost-sharing is and how it works,” he said.

If changes are made with the current factors in the formula, they must win majority approval in all towns together. If another factor is added, the changes must pass in each town individually.

The committee could get its work done by mid-September, Smith said, so that any changes could go on the November ballot.

Any changes in the formula are implemented on July 1, at the start of the budget year. If voted on in November, the soonest this committee’s work would be put in place is July 1, 2019.

“At the end of the day, the outcome might still be the same, but the board heard from folks that they wanted an opportunity to revisit this,” Smith said. “I think the right thing for our schools, our kiddos, is that we re-look at this; and if it stays the same, then so be it. And if it changes, then that will be the right thing for the district and our kids.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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