Richmond High School and Middle School, in a photo taken Nov. 20, 2019. Kennebec Journal staff file photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

As they wait for the information needed to craft a school district withdrawal proposal, members of Richmond’s Regional School Unit 2 withdrawal committee have started considering how a Richmond-only school district might look.

That includes whether a new stand-alone district would have a full-time or a part-time superintendent; whether a school principal in the district would also serve as superintendent; and how long students from other towns would be allowed to attend Richmond schools after withdrawing from the district.

A week ago, the four-member committee sent a request to the school district, seeking a wide range of information by May 6, including contracts, leases and other district obligations, so it can draft a withdrawal proposal for the RSU 2 school board to consider.

At Wednesday’s withdrawal committee meeting, Chairman O’Neil Laplante summarized the district’s response via email, which noted that RSU 2 is now engaged in putting together its proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year and acknowledging that public health restrictions have added a level of complexity to its work.

Like all other school districts in the state, RSU 2 is operating under statewide executive orders issued to slow the spread of coronavirus, banning public gatherings and requiring those who can to work from home.

At the same time, RSU 2 is now searching for a superintendent. Earlier this month, Cheri Towle announced she will resign, effective Thursday, due to medical reasons. Towle had been on medical leave since December. Mary Paine, who has been serving as acting superintendent in Towle’s absence, will serve in an interim capacity.

In March, Richmond voters endorsed a proposal to explore withdrawing from RSU 2, which encompasses Richmond, Dresden, Monmouth, Farmingdale and Hallowell.

“They say they can work on it next week, but May 6 is not doable,” Laplante said, but they would do their best to meet that deadline.

“We should give them until May 6 to see how much they give us, then we’re going to kind of need to hammer them to get the rest of it,” committee member Russell Hughes said. Hughes is also the vice chairman of the of RSU 2 school board.

Mark Bower, Richmond’s attorney for this matter, said he’s never seen a school district not be cooperative.

“I think we need to be reasonable in terms of what the expectations are,” Bower said.

State law has outlined a 22-step process that municipalities seeking to withdraw from school districts have to follow, which includes a public process and public hearings on withdrawal proposals.

What it doesn’t include, he said, is a time frame for a response to a request for information.

“I think we need to see what we get by May 6, which is the date we asked for it,” Bower said. “I think we need to be cognizant of where we are both in the world and in terms of the budget calendar.”

For the committee, its own imposed deadline remains important.

For Richmond to have its own school district by July 1, 2021, the matter has to win a majority of support at the time of the November election. And to get on the November ballot, an agreement negotiated with the school district has to be submitted to the state Department of Education by June 30.

If it can’t meet that June 30 deadline, the withdrawal could not happen for another year.

In the meantime, Bower said the committee should consider how to deal with outstanding debt.

In 2018, the district’s proposal to build a new 70,000-square-foot elementary and middle school in Monmouth was approved by state educational officials, at a cost of $20.7 million for construction. Other costs, for permits, soil testing and buying the land, among other things, were factored into the expected $26.7 million.

While the state has funded the bulk of the project Richmond, as part of the school district, would be responsible for a portion of any additional cost.

Bower said the simplest option would be for Richmond to assume responsibility for paying for the remainder of the debt for improvements made to Richmond schools, and for the school district to assume responsibility for the rest.

“That may not be agreeable to either party,” Bower said, “but it’s part of the process — figuring out how the debt will be retired.”

The committee has scheduled its next meeting for 5 p.m., on May 6. Due to public health bans on public gatherings, the meeting will be held via Zoom.

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