RSU 1 goes back to school with new faces, old disputes

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BATH — Regional School Unit 1 starts the 2014-2015 year with a round of administrative musical chairs at several schools.

A lawsuit filed by West Bath and that town’s possible withdrawal from the RSU are also elements of note as the district goes back to school.

Holly Feeney, who had been a teacher at Bath Middle School, is now assistant principal both there and at Morse High School. She replaces Ross Berkowitz, who is the new principal at the Fisher-Mitchell Elementary School.

Berkowitz in turn replaces Kari Babcock, who had been principal at Phippsburg Elementary School before moving to Fisher-Mitchell, but decided for personal and professional reasons to return to classroom instruction. She is now a teacher at Woolwich Central School, RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said last week.

Jason Libby, who has been a math teacher at Woolwich, replaces recently retired Tom Soule as the school’s principal.

“Like a lot of districts, we had a fair amount of new hires that happened in the spring and summer, just because of retirements that we’ve had in the system,” Manuel said. “We’ve hired a lot of high-quality people, and (are) excited to have them on board.”

Ruth Moore, who started as a payroll clerk for Bath three decades ago and later became business manager for area schools, retired in June. Debra Clark, who had been business manager for School Union 47 before the district merged with Bath to become RSU 1 and had since served as Moore’s assistant, replaced her.

“I have the utmost confidence in (Clark),” Manuel said. “(Having her heading that department is) a big relief … for me. We’re thrilled.”

Programmatically, RSU 1 is expanding its life skills program, and also bringing back alternative education at the high school, with an eye toward expanding it to middle school students, Manuel said.

That form of learning provides “kids another pathway to be successful (in cases) that maybe the traditional model of schooling doesn’t,” the superintendent said.

West Bath grievances

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.

Sagadahoc County Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton ruled in June that Regional School Unit 1 overcharged West Bath more than $1.9 million over four years, but stopped short of awarding repayment to West Bath for the overcharges, opting to leave that issue and others to be decided at trial.

The case is scheduled for the first week of December.

West Bath residents also voted 185-64 in January to initiate the process of withdrawing from RSU 1.

Negotiations between the town and district are continuing, and will culminate with a second and final vote required to allow West Bath to withdraw from the district it helped create in 2008.

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

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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.