West Bath vote on RSU 1 withdrawal likely in January

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BATH — A second and final vote on West Bath’s withdrawal from Regional School Unit 1 could be held in January 2015.

The RSU 1 board unanimously OK’d the agreement Sept. 22, and West Bath heard from the state education commissioner four days later that the agreement received conditional approval in Augusta, according to Peter Oceretko, a West Bath selectman and member of the town’s withdrawal committee.

A public information meeting will  be held at the West Bath School at 6 p.m. Oct. 16. DOE Commissioner James E. Rier Jr. set a public hearing at the school at 6 p.m. Oct. 22, Oceretko said.

The referendum has been tentatively set for Jan. 13, 2015. For it to be valid, West Bath needs a minimum voter turnout of 50 percent of the total ballots cast in the upcoming gubernatorial election, according to Oceretko. The withdrawal initiative requires a simple majority of votes – 50 percent plus one – to succeed.

If withdrawal wins, West Bath’s last day in RSU 1 would be June 30, 2015. Students from the town could continue to attend their own school, which serves kindergarten through grade five. For the first year following withdrawal, West Bath students will be able to attend the RSU 1 school they would have gone to if the town were in the district.

After that, students from West Bath “may choose to attend any middle or secondary school that suits their educational goals or desires at which they are accepted,” according to the agreement.

RSU 1 has agreed to accept middle and high school West Bath pupils as tuition students for 10 years after the withdrawal. At that point, in 2025, a new agreement would have to be negotiated, RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said Tuesday.

However, students from other towns in RSU 1 would no longer be able to attend the West Bath school. Oceretko noted that West Bath would welcome other RSU 1 students, but that RSU 1 policy calls for its students to stay within the school district.

West Bath residents voted 185-64 in January to initiate the process of withdrawing from RSU 1, which the town helped form in 2008.

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.

While 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, he 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 has been scheduled for the first week of December.

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.