District says St. George issued misleading statements
Rockland — The four member Regional School Unit 13 withdrawal committee called St. George's reaction to the district's counterproposal inflammatory, and issued its own statement to set the record straight, the committee said March 10.
The committee, comprised of school board members Donald Robishaw Jr., Christine Curtis, Esther Kilgour and Steven Roberts, responded to a letter written by St. George's withdrawal committee chairman William Reinhardt. At issue are four terms of the withdrawal negotiations.
Reinhardt, who is also the chairman of the town's select board, said the proposed agreement submitted by representatives of the board appears to be intended to coerce St. George to remain part of the district. He contends the agreement offered is harsh and not representative of the full board's view.
The district said the full board took action June 6 and authorized negotiations by the superintendent in consultation with legal counsel. In January, the chairman of the school board, then Kilgour, appointed a withdrawal committee, with no objection by the board, the statement issued by the district said.
Responding to claims by Reinhardt that if the counterproposal was implemented it would have a negative impact on the RSU 13 budget as well as punish St. George students and taxpayers, the board said the preference of the committee has been to keep St. George high school students if done fairly.
"However, St. George demands that RSU 13 commit to accept all of St. George's secondary students, without any commitment on its part to send them," said the statement.
The district also said St. George wants other towns to essentially subsidize the education of their students since the tuition rate offered by St. George is $2,500 less than the cost per student the district spends. The rate of $9,200 offered by St. George is a state-set number. RSU 13 spends about $11,700 educating each student, according to state data.
"This could saddle RSU 13 towns with an additional $230,000 per year in taxes to make up for the actual cost of St. George students," the response said. This would add up to $2.3 million over a 10-year contract.
Reinhardt called the most objectionable elements of the proposal the district's refusal to accept St. George students on a tuition basis, responsibility for the town to assume non-St. George debt, and their responsibility to administrative contracts.
"Given St. George's geographic and historical connection to Rockland, the board's prior indication of a preference to accept tuition students from other communities and countries, the RSU's declining enrollment and continuing budget shortfalls, it is disturbing the counterproposal would absolutely refuse St. George students who wish to attend high school in Rockland," Reinhart said at the March 6 RSU 13 board meeting.
He added if the board feels its acceptance of students would in some way impose a burden on the district, the committee is willing to discuss another financial formula.
On March 6, the Regional School Unit 40 Board of Directors voted unanimously to accept St. George high school students should the town withdraw from the district. RSU 40 includes the towns of Warren, Waldoboro, Friendship, Union and Washington.
The board voted to become the school of record for St. George, meaning Medomak Valley High School would become the official secondary school for St. George students who would want to enroll there.
The counterproposal also stated St. George would assume 35 percent of all outstanding district debt, which is contradictory to all other withdrawal plans accepted by the state, and stipulations of state law, Reinhardt said.
The district contends St. George wants to walk away from its share of debt commitments. "All this debt was issued or assumed by the RSU, and each member agreed to pay its share. St. George cannot simply walk away, leaving the other towns to pay St. George's share," the district said.
"St.George cannot agree to fund a debt that it has no role in approving and does not affect its own facilities," Reinhardt said in his statement.
The board's proposed agreement also requires the town pay a significant portion of the remaining contracts for several administrative staff members. Reinhardt contends this too, is contrary to the requirements of state law.
"The RSU will continue to benefit from the services of these individuals, whereas St. George will not," he said. He added the requirement is unduly burdensome on St. George as they would be paying for their own staff if they chose to withdraw.
He also requested the board vote as soon as possible to schedule a special meeting of the full board to discuss the St. George withdrawal proposal.
"Until such a meeting occurs, St.George will not consider any communication from other than the full board or its duly appointed subcommittee," Reinhardt said in closing.
The RSU 13 committee said it is committed to serving the best interest of its students, taxpayers, and communities. "It will conduct good faith negotiations, while keeping this first and foremost, " it said.
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.