Education commissioner gives conditional approval for district withdrawal
Augusta — The Maine Department of Education commissioner has given conditional approval to a withdrawal agreement crafted by Regional School Unit 13 and St. George.
St. George has worked toward withdrawal for nearly four years seeking exploratory education, increased governance, and freedom to fund extracurricular activities for St. George students, which at times was cause for contention between the town and the board.
Terry Driscoll, chairman of the town withdrawal committee, said the committee is close to accomplishing their goal to give the town a choice in terms of educating students. Driscoll said he does not expect there will be changes to the agreement before it is sent back to the commissioner for final approval, but added he cannot be certain as he has not been through this process before.
As dictated by state law, the district will now hold a public hearing to discuss the proposed withdrawal. The hearing is slated for Thursday, Sept. 18, at 6:30 p.m. at the McLain School.
The hearing will focus on the terms of the agreement, and not whether withdrawal is a good or bad idea, Driscoll said. St. George will continue to hold hearings in September and October to inform the public about educational issues and the operation of a proposed k-8 district.
Jim Rier, commissioner of education, will then need to approve the final agreement before the town poses the question to voters in November. If approved, the withdrawal would be effective July 1, 2015.
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 725 people.
In June 2013, St. George residents voted 227 to 82 in favor of continuing the withdrawal process.
If withdrawal is approved, a five-member school board will be created to govern the kindergarten to eighth-grade school. Any voting-age resident can run for election, according to withdrawal committee documents.
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.
Terry Driscoll, withdrawal committee chairman, said previously the town and the district negotiated the figure the town would pay.
The terms of agreement stipulate St. George will have the St. George School building and responsibility for the property's associated debt. High school students will have the choice to attend five area secondary schools — Oceanside High School, Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, Camden Hills Regional High School, Lincoln Academy in Newcastle and the private Watershed School in Camden. Tuition to all local schools will be paid for by the St. George Municipal School Unit.
According to budgets drafted by the town's withdrawal committee and educational committee, St. George taxes will not increase in creating the district and payments to the district.
St. George will have responsibility for its share of debt assumed under the agreement that consolidated SAD 5 and SAD 50 as well as new debt authorized by voters of the district prior to the affirmative withdrawal vote in November, said the agreement.
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.