Richmond High School and Middle School, in a photo taken Nov. 20. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Members of Richmond’s RSU 2 Withdrawal Committee have started work on the process that may lead to the town forming its own municipal school district.

The final decision to leave the district rests on a townwide vote, and when that can be scheduled depends entirely on when an agreement on the proposed exit can be reached with Regional School Unit 2.

The reason for that is the timeline that’s spelled out in state law, Mark Bower said Wednesday at the committee’s first working meeting. Bower is an attorney with Jensen Baird Gardner Henry, and is Richmond’s attorney in this matter.

The online meeting, which took place via Zoom, brought together the four-member committee, first for an organizational meeting, and then a meeting with Bower over proposed deadlines and what information needs to be gathered.

The committee members are O’Neill LaPlante, chairperson of the Richmond Board of Selectmen, who was chosen to be the chairperson of the withdrawal committee; town resident Kim Lane, who is vice chairperson of the withdrawal committee and signed the petition; Russell Hughes, vice chairperson of the RSU 2 school board; and town resident Michael Wing.

“The effective date has to be at the end of the fiscal year,” Bower said.

If Richmond residents want to withdraw from the district on July 1, 2021, the townwide vote must take place the November before that. To get on the November 2020 ballot, the final agreement is due to the state Department of Education by June 30.

Bower said if an agreement can’t be completed by then, the next possible exit date will be July 1, 2022.

The agreement will spell out the disposition of real and personal property, provisions for special education, how transportation will be handled, what Richmond’s share of the district’s financial obligations and surplus would be, and the condition and assignment of the collective bargaining agreements, among other things.

A new requirement under the law is that an anticipated budget for the first year of a Richmond school district be developed, both for the Department of Education and for Richmond residents to see.

“It’s kind of like a divorce,” Bower said. “You have to figure out what the assets are and divide them.”

Hughes said getting all that by the end of June might be hard. Officials in the district, which encompasses Richmond, Dresden, Monmouth, Farmingdale and Hallowell, are now in the middle of preparing the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. At the same time, they may be working remotely due to public health restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus and may not have access to the documents they need.

Once the withdrawal committee submits its document to RSU 2, district officials will have the opportunity to weigh in and make counter proposals.

Bower also recommended that the committee consider hiring a consultant to calculate the financial impact leaving the district will have on voters.

Among the requirements spelled out in state law, he said, is that a successful withdrawal must not require the need for state building funds for five years.

“So if we withdraw, we have to stick with the high school for five more years?” Hughes asked.

Bower said the goal of reorganization a decade ago was to save money on construction, among other things.

“If you stay, that’s a different story,” he said. “But it may be five years before you get on the school construction list anyway.”

The withdrawal process got its start in November 2019, when a group of residents submitted a petition seeking to leave the school district. That petition put the question of whether voters wanted to explore leaving the district to a vote on March 3. A clear majority voted in favor.

The committee is expected to meet again at 5:30 p.m. April 29 to review the skeleton agreement that Bower will draft in the meantime.

Richmond Town Manager Adam Garland said an RSU2 withdrawal page will be added to the town’s website where all the documents related to the withdrawal process will posted.

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