Belgrade residents on Monday can get more information about a proposal to have the town withdraw from Regional School Unit 18, an issue that has divided the town sharply.

The public discussion is set for 6 to 8 p.m. at the Center For All Seasons.

The Nov. 7 ballot question asks voters if they want to file a petition to withdraw with the school board of RSU 18 and the state and allow the withdrawal committee to spend $15,000.

This is the first step in a 22-step process laid out by the state Department of Education for municipalities that want to leave a regional school unit.

A second vote is required later in the process.

The upcoming ballot question is the result of a petition drive by residents who say the cost of remaining in the five-town district is too high for the town and that they want more local control. Others say organizers of that drive told people — incorrectly — that the district was planning to close Belgrade Central School, and that leaving the district will increase education costs even more.


Monday’s discussion is to be facilitated by former legislator Robert Nutting, of Oakland.

Voters also will see a districtwide question at the polls asking for authorization to issue $13.9 million in bonds to upgrade facilities across the district, including a complete renovation and upgrade of the athletic complex at Messalonskee High School. That amount includes just over $778,000 budgeted for work at Belgrade Central School.

District figures show that a 20-year bond for that amount would mean an annual cost to the owner of a $100,000 house of about $39.60 in Belgrade, $49.10 in China, $43.48 in Oakland, $38.48 in Rome and $49.21 in Sidney, based on current tax rates.

The district has held a series of informational sessions on that referendum and has posted the ballot question and detailed information about it on its website at

Belgrade Town Manager Dennis Keschl said initially selectmen had hoped to set up a forum to present both sides of the issue, but that proved too difficult, so the more informal discussion was planned. He said school board members from Belgrade, RSU 18 Superintendent Carl Gartley and others were invited.

Dana Doran, of Belgrade, who has two children in the school district, said Friday he is “adamantly opposed” to the withdrawal proposal and will be at the discussion to say so. He said he plans to offer information showing that 11 of the 15 towns that left districts between 2011 and 2015 spent more money in the first year after leaving. “I haven’t seen a dispute about the quality of education being presented (at RSU 18).”


He was a member of a committee appointed by selectmen to do an informal review of the financial effects of withdrawing.

“We spent almost eight months reviewing the question and reviewing the options,” Doran said. He said the committee concluded that “it was more probable, based on a lot of variables, that Belgrade would pay more money in the long run.”

About a week ago, Penny Morrell, who advocates for the town leaving the district and becoming independent, and three other residents drove around the town, dropping off information sheets at people’s doors.

“It’s kind of taxation without representation,” she said. “We have 1.7 votes on a 10-member board when we pay more than all the other towns,” she said. “We’re out-voted by the other towns on some issues. This would bring local control. It would give parents control over where they send their kids for high school. We wouldn’t necessarily have to send them to RSU 18.”

Morrell said the numbers on the fact sheet were provided by the superintendent, although her group subtracted a figure representing the amount of money that China spends on tuition for students attending Erskine Academy.

Doran said the information sheet was reviewed by district officials, who indicated some items were incorrect.


Morrell single-handedly collected almost all the signatures on the petition that put the issue on the ballot, and said she told people that there was a danger that Belgrade Central School would close.

“I was accused of scaring people,” she said on Friday. “The truth of the matter is it was part of the discussion, and it could happen.”

Morrell, who has a grandson in the school district, said that came from talk among facilities committee members about possibly closing Belgrade’s school and sending the children to Sidney.

“We don’t want to send our kids somewhere else,” she said. “We want to keep our kids in Belgrade.”

Doran provided one of Morrell’s information sheets with corrections that he said came from the superintendent’s office. One of those says that a consolidation plan presented recently keeps a school open in each town that has one now, including Belgrade.

Belgrade Central School’s pupil enrollment includes 173 students who live in Belgrade and 60 who are from Rome, according to Gartley. Rome no longer has an elementary school.


Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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