District to discuss St. George withdrawal draft
Rockland — The Regional School Unit 13 board will review a proposed withdrawal draft Thursday, Jan. 9 that was submitted by St. George in late November.
The board will also create an ad hoc committee tasked with negotiations. The negotiations are expected to begin in February, according to the St. George town newsletter. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the McLain School in Rockland.
If the proposed plan is accepted by Commissioner of Education Jim Rier, and St. George citizens, the town will withdraw and become its own independent school district July 1, 2015.
The municipality will be responsible for educating kindergarten through 12th-grade students, including those with special needs. When students reach high school age, they will be tuitioned to RSU 13 or another district. The dollar amount the town will pay is dictated by state law, according the the proposed agreement.
Withdrawal Committee member Terence Driscoll said last month that St. George has a history of being concerned with the value of education for their students. He said St. George spends about $15,000 per student from their tax base.
If withdrawal is adopted and followed to fruition, older students would enroll in area high schools, providing they are accepted.
The committee has met with Camden Hills Regional High School and Medomak Valley High School superintendents. Both districts said they would consider accepting St. George students. The last meeting with Five Town Community School District took place in early December, where the town newsletter states substantial progress was made in discussing the terms of the potential agreement with sending students to Camden Hills Regional High School. Similar meetings with Medomak Valley High School and area private high schools will continue this month.
The first year of the proposed withdrawal, September 2015 to June 2016, students will be allowed to attend the district school they would have attended if the town did not withdraw. Until 2025, St. George will also maintain the right to send grade 9-12 students to a RSU 13 school. Students with special needs that the town cannot accommodate, will also have the right to attend a RSU 13 school through the 2025 -2026 school year.
Exact figures for asset distribution is unknown at this time, Driscoll said earlier this month, explaining the numbers will depend on what the reserve budgets will amount to, and how the current budget freeze will affect assets at the time withdrawal would occur.
"It's not a win or lose negotiation, it's down the middle," he said.
Topics of negotiations include what will happen with the St. George School building and teachers.
Driscoll said in other town withdrawal agreements, the physical building has been deeded to the new municipal school unit, and teachers already working at the school, also go with the new district. He said the committee has been communicating with educators to determine what their desires are, but added there is no firm answer on teacher distribution yet..
The St. George School building and property will be transferred to the town without cost, and the town will incur debts associated with the school. All materials, including books, furnishings and equipment, will also go with the school, and all educators working at the school will transfer to the new district, according to the agreement, posted on the town website Nov. 25.
Five buses will also be allocated to the town, and the town district would receive state reimbursement, if any, for leased or purchased vehicles, states the proposed agreement.
Potential withdrawal date
Driscoll said a tentative date for withdrawal is July 1, 2015. St. George voters will decide on whether to formally withdraw in November 2014. To set up an independent school district, the town must approve the measure with a 51 percent majority of the number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election, roughly 700 people.
The date to begin the new district was chosen to give voters a chance to get clarity on what RSU 13's goals are, and what impact consolidation will have on St. George students, he said. It will also give the town ample time — eight months — to setup an independent school unit.
"We just want an informed electorate, there are a lot of unknowns," Driscoll said previously.
Proposed shared services, interlocal agreements
Vehicle maintenance and repair, special education administration and service, technical support and food service are proposed shared services between the district and St. George.
He said the select board took action in trying to rectify educational and governance issues by forming the town education committee and withdrawal committee.
After ideas were brought forth about the town funding their own supplemental programs and forming a local school committee to add input to the district's plan were tuned down by the board, withdrawal was the only option under the law allowed to improve education, he said.
The Town Education Committee — formed in 2011 by the select board to investigate and research educational options — recommended St. George create an independent district, operating a K-8 school.
At a meeting earlier this year, Driscoll cited reasons for withdrawal including: the probability of continued consolidation of schools, cutting staff positions, special curriculum, and a school budget pared to the bone.
St. George voters went to the polls in May and decisively approved beginning withdrawal from RSU 13 and accepted allocating $25,000 from the municipal budget to cover anticipated withdrawal costs, including legal counsel and consultants.
The withdrawal process could take about a year.
The final plan must be approved by the Commissioner of Education, Jim Rier.
If the referendum is defeated, St. George would remain a member of RSU 13, which also includes schools in Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Owls Head and Cushing.
The entire text can be found on the town's website, stgeoregmaine.com.
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at email@example.com.