CHELSEA — Town voters will have a chance to decide on Election Day whether they want to investigate withdrawing Chelsea Elementary School from the Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit.

The article will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot thanks to a petition drive completed in September, which garnered 123 signatures, just enough to get the measure on the ballot.

“Ultimately, it’s the voters’ decision,” Chelsea Selectman Michael Pushard said Friday. “It’s our job as selectmen to bring it to them. We work for the people.”

At Thursday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, town elected officials scheduled a public hearing on the matter for Oct. 25. Board meetings start at 6:30 p.m.

The warrant article asks whether residents favor filing a petition for withdrawal with the school board and the state commissioner of education, and authorize spending $15,000 for that.

If the voters agree, that will mark the start of the investigation into the steps needed and the costs associated with leaving the school district and bringing the school under the local control of the town, a process that would take months.

RSU 12, the Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit, consists of elementary schools in Chelsea, Somerville, Whitefield and Windsor, and Palermo Consolidated School.

In 2013, Wiscasset voters elected to withdraw from the district; the district stretches from Westport Island in Lincoln County to Palermo in Waldo County.

Pushard said Chelsea residents have two main concerns — taxes and local control — and the two are linked.

“When our municipal budget comes in, our hands are tied,” Pushard said. “If they (the school district) tells us our portion is going up $300,000, that’s two and a quarter points on the mill rate. It handcuffs our hands.”

That prompts town officials to review municipal spending and defer or cancel some projects with an eye to keeping Chelsea’s property tax rate as low as possible.

“We get bombarded with people asking us why the taxes are so high ‘when you give us nothing in return. Can you afford to get out?'”

Richard Cote is not so sure.

Cote, a Chelsea resident, is the vice chairman of the RSU 12 school board and a member of its finance committee.

“They have a right to ask for a vote,” Cote said, “but I don’t think they realize how much extra it’s going to cost them.”

Costs totaling almost $2 million are associated with the withdrawal, he said, including Chelsea’s share of districtwide projects and commitments such as multi-year contracts, summer teacher salaries and some administrative fees, among other things.

Cote said the town also would have to pay for the school, which belongs to the school district, as do the school buses. If the town votes “yes,” he said, a four-person committee, made up of one school board member, one selectman and two town residents, would be appointed to look into the issues associated with separation.

“It’s a long process,” Cote said.

Pushard said he thinks the school district budget could be cut, but it doesn’t happen.

“Before the RSU, the budget committee for the school would bring us the budget,” Pushard said. “Now when it comes time for the school vote, they send out an email to parents and teachers and they don’t want anything cut. They are approving the budget.”

Pushard said it’s hard to get people out to meetings, and it’s now at a point that the school board vote has a greater effect on the taxes Chelsea residents pay than town government does.

“They don’t see, they don’t care what’s going on in our town,” he said.

The effect is seen, he said, in the number of properties town officials have acquired for nonpayment of taxes.

“We had 11 in April. That’s not why I became a selectman, to take people’s property. We never do. We always work with them and give it back to them. The only ones we have taken over are from the residents who said they were walking away from them.”

Cote agrees with Pushard that it’s hard to get people to meetings. School board meetings, including those where budgets are discussed before they go to voters, don’t draw people to attend, he said.

At the last districtwide vote, Cote said, more than 65 percent of the parents voted in favor of the school budget.

“Every town’s budget goes up every year, with the state cutting back on us all the time,” he said. “It’s just one of those things.”

What drives costs up for schools is valuation, he said. Chelsea’s valuation has increased, and when that happens, the state gives the school district less money.

“We try to keep the cost as low as possible, but costs go up,” he said.

While a location for the Oct. 25 meeting was not set by the Board of Selectmen at its meeting, Cote said it’s likely to be at the school, which is just down the road from the Town Office.

“That meeting room (in the Town Hall) can only hold about 20,” he said. “That’s not going to be enough room. The whole school board will be attending the meeting, and we’ll need more room.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.