West Bath votes next week on RSU 1 withdrawal

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WEST BATH — Voters will decide Tuesday, Jan. 13, if the town should withdraw from Regional School Unit 1, which West Bath helped form in 2008.

Not only is a majority needed for the vote to succeed, it also requires enough people to vote.

A minimum voter turnout of 50 percent of the total ballots cast in the gubernatorial election last November – 560 votes – is necessary for the referendum to be valid. The withdrawal initiative’s success needs a simple majority of votes: 50 percent plus one.

If the decision gets the required minimum number of voters and fails, but more than 45 percent of votes are cast in the affirmative, West Bath can immediately restart the withdrawal process, Selectman Peter Oceretko, co-chairman of the town’s Withdrawal Committee, said last month.

If withdrawal gets fewer than 45 percent, another effort must wait at least two years.

If withdrawal is approved, a three-member transition committee will be formed. The panel will plan new school administration, develop a budget, and schedule a special election to establish a new school board.

West Bath’s final day with RSU 1 would be June 30. Students from the town could continue to attend their own school, which serves kindergarten through fifth grade. For the first year following withdrawal, West Bath students would be able to attend the RSU 1 school they would have gone to if the town were still 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 withdrawal agreement, which the state approved in December.

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

Tuition to RSU 1 is determined each year by a state-set formula.

The Withdrawal Committee had Planning Decisions, a Portland-based firm, estimate the possible impact seceding from RSU 1 would have on West Bath’s budget, without changes in how the town’s elementary school operates. The town could save about $398,000, cutting its education budget by 14 percent, the committee estimated.

“The standard used to evaluate whether creating a separate school unit for the town makes sense should not be just money or taxes,” RSU 1 board members Tim Harkins and Steve August said Tuesday in letter to The Forecaster. “While cost is a factor, the education that students will receive, not only next year, but years into the future must be part of the equation.”

They noted that the benefits of consolidation, such as flexible programming options and access to resources, have shown “positive results” throughout RSU 1, and that the success of the West Bath school has been part of that experience.

“Just as there is no single measure that can be used to evaluate the benefits of creating an independent school district, there is no single indicator that can be used to conclude that the RSU has failed to meet its promise,” Harkins and August wrote. “The communities that joined to form the RSU a few years ago had a shared objective: educational excellence. All of the participating communities – and the schools – in the district play a role in assuring progress toward that objective and we hope that West Bath residents will decide to remain part of the RSU.”

West Bath residents voted 185-64 in January 2014 to initiate the process of withdrawing from RSU 1, which the town established with Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg and Woolwich.

West Bath sued RSU 1 and member city Bath in 2012 to recover $1.9 million the town believed it overpaid in the first four years of the school district’s existence. The case was settled last month after the Bath City Council approved paying West Bath $1.2 million.

The insurance carrier for RSU 1 agreed to also pay West Bath $50,000.

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.