FARMINGTON — Chesterville residents have organized a drive to collect signatures to petition the Maine commissioner of education to reapportion the Regional School Unit 9 board of directors.

Currently, the board is made up of 16 directors, with two of the towns having 64 percent of the vote, Tiffany Estabrook, of Chesterville, said Monday.

Farmington has five director seats, Wilton has three and the towns of Chesterville, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Starks, Temple, Vienna and Weld have one each.

Decisions at the board level have been based on weighted votes since Starks joined the district in 2010.

The current system apportions 1,000 votes among the board’s 16 members, representing 10 member towns based on the population of each town.

The apportionment meets the one-person, one-vote principle of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to a legal opinion that Superintendent Tom Ward received in 2015 from attorney Greg Im, of Drummond Woodsum.

Estabrook and Scott Gray, also of Chesterville, propose that 10 districts be created with the boundaries being the town lines. Every town would have a chance to vote on each candidate in each town, Estabrook said.

The method also meets the one-person, one-vote principle, according to state law.

“This will help minimize the division of the towns in RSU 9,” she said.

Estabrook is doing the petition as a resident and not as a selectman of Chesterville, she said.

The petition drive started Friday, and by Monday more than 50 signatures were collected. Someone in each town is collecting signatures. Some are going door to door. Copies of the petition also are located in some stores and town offices.

Director Craig Stickney, of Chesterville, who is not collecting signatures, took the reapportionment request to the school board on Feb. 13.

Directors voted to table the matter until July 1 and then consider forming a subcommittee to look into it. Directors said they first need to develop a 2018-19 budget and hire a new superintendent before July 1 to replace Ward, who is retiring June 30.

A previous cost estimate from Drummond Woodsum to take the district through the reapportionment process was $9,000 to $11,000, based on three meetings and 15 hours for drafting of the final reapportionment plan.

Estabrook said organizers need to collect signatures from district voters that equal at least 10 percent of the district voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

Rounded up, they need 850 signatures, she said.

“One of the reasons we started the petition instead of waiting until July was that we wanted to get it on the school budget referendum,” Estabrook said. “We really want to cut down on the disconnect between the citizens and the board, and we really want to unify the district and the communities. One way we felt to do it is to have equal representation.”

Board Chairwoman Jennifer Zweig Hebert said in an email Wednesday that her term on the school board ends in June, so she will not be involved in the process.

“I do wonder if it will yield the perceived ‘fairness’ proponents are seeking,” she wrote. “It is true with this proposed method each board member will have votes weighted the same during board meetings, thus increasing a smaller town’s say at the table.

“However, I believe the method being advocated diminishes the power of the smaller town voter significantly. Since each candidate from each ‘district’ (town) will be voted on districtwide, voters in larger towns probably will determine the outcome of contests in a smaller town. As a representative from a small town, I have always felt my voice on the board was listened to thoughtfully. To me, that is the most important piece.”

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