WEST BATH — Residents voted 185-64 Tuesday to initiate the process of withdrawing from Regional School Unit 1.
A long process now lies ahead, culminating with a second and final vote required to allow the town to withdraw from the school district it helped form in 2008.
“It’s a huge process,” Selectman Paula Nelson said during a Jan. 6 public hearing. She said she couldn’t guarantee that withdrawing from RSU 1 is “the best idea. I don’t have that information. I cannot make an informed decision at all about what’s in the best interest of not only our town, but our students. … We just need the ability to research that.”
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 residents 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.
“I was very pleased with the results, and I was glad for such a good turnout given the time of the year,” he said Wednesday.
“The voters certainly voted in favor of proceeding with this, and we’re here to work with the town of West Bath and provide factual information and answer questions as we go through this official process,” RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said Wednesday.
Tim Harkins, chairman of the RSU 1 Board of Directors, agreed with those sentiments that morning.
“The RSU will continue to support (West Bath) in the process, and provide them the information that they need,” he said. “… We value the kids, we value that school, and would like to retain them as part of the RSU.”
Negotiations now start between the town and RSU 1, which also includes Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg and Woolwich. A four-person withdrawal committee will be formed, composed of a West Bath selectman, one of the petitioners, a member of the public, and an RSU 1 board member.
As part of Tuesday’s referendum, West Bath also chose to allocate $40,000 for expenses related to the process.
The state education commissioner will have to approve a negotiated withdrawal plan, which would then go back to West Bath voters for a second vote. Should that vote be 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.