I am a retired public school educator with more than 44 years spent in public education. I am not anti-education. Nor am I against spending money on education. Two years ago when I asked the question if being part of Regional School Unit 18 was the best decision for Belgrade, there were those who labeled me as wanting to destroy education in Belgrade. I was charged with wanting to slash spending, cut teachers, cut teacher’s pay, and almost any other thing that would harm our kids and their education. None of that was my intention. As a member of the budget committee, I knew we had worked hard to reduce costs in town or keep increases of needed items to a minimum, reflective of economic conditions at the time.

The Selectboard formed a committee and we worked to gather the information to make a recommendation to the people of Belgrade regarding what turned out to be just a focus on cost of running Belgrade Central School.

A few things have happened since then. We have not seen any reduction in the cost to Belgrade taxpayers as student numbers and energy costs have gone down. Last spring, when the assistant superintendent was making a presentation to the Belgrade Selectboard about the 2017-2018 school budget, he responded to a question about an increase in the nutrition budget with a statement that consolidation could help keep costs down, like the cost of running multiple cafeterias.

His answer indicated that at least some people must be making a case for consolidation in the RSU. Would a new elementary school be built in Belgrade to serve our students? I think not. I suspect any consolidation of the elementary schools would result in BCS being shut down and any new school built closer to the population center of the RSU.

Belgrade has less than two votes on the school board. We can be outvoted on anything. Belgrade also can be outvoted when there is a referendum question. If the larger towns wanted to build a new elementary school and they wanted it more centrally located, Belgrade would not be able to stop it, and because of the funding formula — which Belgrade can’t control — we would have to pay a disproportionate share of the cost.

Up to this point, debt service costs have been shared equally by all the towns, but as of the local share committee vote on Sept. 21, debt service costs will be allocated based on the formula of 75 percent based on land value and 25 percent based on student enrollment. Any new debt will mean a significant increase in Belgrade taxes and potentially no school in Belgrade. If we wait for the facilities committee final recommendations and get outvoted, including possibly loosing BCS, it will be too late to avoid the cost or stop BCS from being shut down.

There is also a problem with any of the final conclusions of the committee two years ago. It is a flawed assumption to plan on Rome paying tuition to Belgrade. If Belgrade is not part of the RSU, RSU 18 would decide where Rome students are educated. There was also concern about Belgrade being charged high tuition costs for grades 6-12. That’s not true, as the state sets tuition limits.

The Department of Education requires a multi-step procedure prior to any vote for withdrawal. We have to hire professionals to do some of the work, but there is also a lot we can do. I think there is a major misunderstanding by some people. Even if 100 percent of the voters in Belgrade vote yes on the petition referendum in November, we would not be withdrawing from RSU 18. Period. This is not a referendum on withdrawal, only to start the process of withdrawal.

The final conclusion may be that staying in RSU 18 is in the best interest of Belgrade. There are advantages to being in a larger school unit. Maybe it does not matter to most Belgrade residents if there is no school in Belgrade. Right now, the state says we are paying 29.51 percent of the cost of supporting RSU 18 and we are sending 16.56 percent of the students.

I support a yes vote on this petition referendum, but I am not ready to say I support withdrawal. That may seem like a difference without distinction, but it is not. As one Belgrade Selectboard member said to me, “Let’s just get all the facts on the table, once and for all.”

Howard Holinger is a resident of Belgrade.