RICHMOND — In less than a month, town residents will be casting their votes on whether to withdraw from Regional School Unit 2.

On Monday night, Richmond officials hosted the town’s public hearing on the withdrawal as part of the process of leaving the school district. RSU 2 conducted its public hearing March 25.

In order to withdraw, Richmond needs a turnout of 822 voters, and a majority of those — at least 412 — have to vote in vote in favor of leaving RSU 2.

There were several reasons Richmond is exploring withdrawal, and Richmond Selectman O’Neil Laplante said it was a “marriage that didn’t work.” Mainly, he said, the town wanted to “regain local control” over the schools and wanted to “improve transparency” with budgets and how money is spent.

The public hearings have allowed residents to ask questions about the process, as well as the future of RSU 2 and Richmond schools. Questions Monday night revolved around how Richmond schools would improve if the town withdraws from RSU 2.

Martha Witham, Richmond Withdrawal Committee member, pointed out the test scores for the town’s schools are low compared to those in RSU 2 and statewide.

According to data from the Maine Department of Education’s website, Marcia Buker Elementary School’s language arts, math and science scores all trended lower from the start of the data in 2015-2016 to the end of the data in 2018-2019, while Hall-Dale Elementary School’s rates in the same subjects stay somewhat consistent.

Witham argued withdrawal from RSU 2 would allow the town to make more direct decisions for its students.

“It would give the schools more decisions among the Richmond schools,” said Witham, a former superintendent. “For an RSU, they are made across the board for the RSU.”

In the 2015 school year, 51% of Marcia Buker students were below the state average for language arts; in 2018, the number jumped to 62% of students below the state average. For math, in 2015, 60% were below the state average and in 2018, 83% were below. Science has similar trends, with 34% of students below the state average in 2015 and 44% below in 2018.

For Hall-Dale Elementary, the numbers stayed more consistent, at an average of 43% below the state average for language art scores between the school years of 2015-2018. Math at Hall-Dale Elementary went from 51% below the state average to 61% below in 2018. Science was 13% below the state average in 2015 and 23% below in 2018.

The scores, which the DOE’s website did not have from prior to RSU 2’s formation, are based on annual statewide testing.

Russ Hughes, a Richmond representative for the RSU 2 school board and member of the Withdrawal Committee, said he wasn’t optimistic scores would improve if the town remained a part of the school district.

“I don’t think RSU 2 or our being a member is the reason for the poor marks,” he said. “I just don’t have a lot of confidence we would improve much beyond the marks if we stayed.”

If the withdrawal is approved, teachers who spend 50% or more of their time in Richmond schools would remain in them in a stand-alone district. Richmond students who are attending RSU 2 schools other than those in town would be able to remain enrolled in them to the highest grade level for that school.

Richmond resident Samantha Moore asked what withdrawing would do for the students’ education. Witham noted that a Richmond school board would be solely focused on the best interest of the town’s schools and students.

She said she tried to draft a potential budget, using the current RSU 2 spending plan as a guide, but said it was impossible to do so without a school board to direct its focus.

“I thought, I could do this to show, but it’s for the new school (board) to decide,” she said. “Are you going to have a full time business manager? Or can the town take responsibility? I don’t know. I couldn’t put one together to show you.”

If withdrawal takes place, members of a school board would likely be chosen during the November election. Witham said a transition committee can be appointed to help with proposals, review contracts between the school and town, and recommend staffing. It cannot, however, draft a budget; that is something a school board has to do.

RSU 2’s current proposed spending plan is $32.6 million, and Richmond has been asked to increase its town allocation by $259,965 — or 7.4% — to $3.7 million.

Hughes said if the town withdraws, he thinks the budget for a new school district could require a similar allocation as the town’s current expense.

“I think it would be false to say we are saving money,” he said, “but we have to look at academics rather than cost.”

On the Richmond Family and Friends Facebook page, a post by Rose Dearborn Beckwith said she left with “more questions than answers” and she wished she received more answers from the selectmen on the budget process. She recalled before Richmond was part of RSU 2, the budget would be done with town officials and the school board, collaboratively.

“The original plan of joining an RSU was to save money,” she wrote. “Most of the administrative positions were relabeled and kept in the larger unit. No real saving was realized there.

“I feel like we can take this by the horns and make our schools what we want them to be for our kids and to be responsible for our taxpayers,” she added. “Bigger isn’t always better.”

Mark Pearson, a Richmond representative on the RSU 2 school board, said he is in support of withdrawing. When asked if RSU 2 has done anything in attempt to making Richmond stay, he said “they are trying to keep out of it to let us decide either way.”

“I am in favor of withdrawing,”Pearson said. “I agree with everything said.”

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