LITCHFIELD — Litchfield’s committee to explore withdrawing from Regional School Unit 4 used its first meeting to go over its objectives, discuss concerns with the school district and come up with questions for the town’s lawyer on how to move forward in the process.

Percy Gowell, the committee’s chair, said the committee will only explore the option of withdrawing from the school district if it’s something the town wants.

He said he personally believes the town has lost “local control” of its schools by being a part of RSU 4.

“I went to Libby-Tozier (School), and we had a local marching band, and when we had a parade, parents, grandparents, all those people attended,” Gowell said. “That’s part of our town’s identity and some of that was lost. … As someone who has lived here my whole life, that’s what I’m passionate about.”

Gowell said that as a business owner in the town, he has heard concerns from residents about the school district, mainly after an August referendum that asked the three RSU 4 towns — Wales, Sabattus and Litchfield — to fund a $31 million renovation to Oak Hill Middle School. The proposal also entailed closing Libby-Tozier and Sabattus Primary School, which need millions of dollars in repairs in order to meet state standards for schools buildings.

The three towns overwhelmingly rejected the plan, with 91% of voters opposing it.


“I don’t know how many people came up to me and said, ‘That’s crazy, we have to get out of the RSU,'” Gowell said.

Chadd Hill, another committee member, said he has heard people say they are not receiving enough information about the school district and how the district’s budget impacts their taxes. He acknowledged it can be a lot of information for voters to sort through, particularly when it comes to understanding the “local additional” part of the budget.

In a school district’s budget, the state determines a percentage of the budget that it will pay for and calculates how many teachers, nurses and other positions a school needs to accommodate the number of students it has. Towns pay a percentage of the school budget already, but any additional positions or needs above what the state will pay are funded by taxpayers in the “local additional” part of the budget. The state’s formula can be difficult for a district that has multiple school buildings among spread-out towns. It creates the need to have more staff so each building can meet its needs.

Committee members said that if the town does decide to withdraw from RSU 4, it could end up costing the town more money than it already pays as part of the the school district. With that in mind, the committee plans to come up with multiple options for the town to consider, such as the possibility of joining another town and creating a new district.

In order to officially start the withdrawal process, residents must weigh in through a vote, then another committee with a school board member and a select board member must be formed before the town can start the lengthy process.

A date for the committee’s next meeting has yet to be determined, but the committee members — Gowell, Hill, Tom Wood and Mike Sherman — decided they will come up with questions they have about the process to hand over to the town lawyer to discuss. The committee of four Litchfield residents met in person, but live-streamed the meeting over Zoom, which drew a handful of members of the public.

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