Oceretko, Yacoben lead RSU 1 withdrawal panel

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WEST BATH — A committee tasked with developing an agreement for the town’s withdrawal from Regional School Unit 1 met Wednesday for the first time.

The four-person panel chose Selectman Peter Oceretko and Kyle Yacoben, a member of the RSU 1 Board of Directors, as its co-chairmen, Town Administrator Jon Davis said Thursday.

West Bath residents voted by about a 3-1 margin Jan. 21 to initiate the process of withdrawing from the district, which the town helped form with Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg, West Bath and Woolwich in 2008.

That was the fourth step of a 22-part process, which will culminate with a second and final vote to allow the town to withdraw. Since last month’s first vote, the town has notified the Maine Department of Education of the results, and the education commissioner has authorized the formation of the withdrawal committee. 

The committee had to be composed of four people: a West Bath selectman, one of the petitioners, a member of the public, and an RSU 1 board member.

The Board of Selectmen chose three of the members Feb. 10: Oceretko, resident Dennis Crews, and petitioner Carol Gillespie. The RSU 1 Board of Directors chose Yacoben the following day to be the fourth member.

As per Step 7 in the process, RSU 1 Board Chairman Tim Harkins presided over the first meeting until the group elected its chair. The committee must now negotiate a withdrawal agreement with the School Board, and submit a proposed agreement to the DOE commissioner within 90 days of the group’s formation. The commissioner can allow more time, if necessary.

Resident Robert Brown, who started the withdrawal petition, said in October 2013 that the town certified 127 signatures, more than the required 102 (10 percent of the number of citizens who voted in the last gubernatorial election).

Local control of costs, school choice and preservation of the town’s school are issues that triggered the withdrawal movement, Brown has said.

If the second withdrawal vote is held before Jan. 1, 2015, half the number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election must participate; a simple majority would be required to confirm withdrawal, according to information provided by the town’s withdrawal committee.

If the vote is held after Jan. 1, 2015, there would be no minimum number of voters, although two-thirds of voters would have to support withdrawal.

Meanwhile, West Bath is suing RSU 1 to recover $1.9 million the town believes it overpaid in the first four years of the school district’s existence. The lawsuit, filed in October 2012, claims West Bath should have been assessed a total of $8.2 million over the course of four years, but instead paid $10.1 million. The suit claims RSU 1 owes West Bath $1.9 million, plus interest.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.