The St. George Municipal School Unit owes the Rockland-area school district nearly $1.3 million, according to the Regional School Unit 13 business manager.

The St. George superintendent said Thursday night, May 2, his school district simply wanted more documentation before paying some of the bills, but that he was willing to mail out checks for the current school year tuition as early as Friday morning.

AndMonday, RSU 13 Business Manager Peter Orne said he had received $327,000 that day from St. George for what it believes it owes for September 2018 through February 2019 tuition payments.

The issue of the unpaid money was raised at the RSU 13 Board meeting May 2. The announcement comes three days after the administration informed the school board that RSU 13 owed the state $628,000 for overpayment of state aid.

Board member Doug Curtis Jr. said May 2 he was stunned by the news.

"It seems like at each board meeting another bomb is being dropped," Curtis said. "I feel like I've been punched, knocked down and stomped on."

Superintendent John McDonald said while this may be the first time that some of the newer school board members were aware of the money owed by St. George, that the issue has been discussed by the board in previous years.

Orne said he appreciated the relationship between RSU 13 and St. George and that the district wants high school students from that community to attend Oceanside High School in Rockland.

Board member Carol Bachofner of Rockland said she did not just want RSU 13 to be respectful, but to be respected.

Orne said he believed the dispute over what is owed will be resolved.

St. George Superintendent Michael Felton attended the meeting, but did not speak during the session. After the meeting, he said said there had been considerable communication between the districts and he had met personally with Orne and McDonald.

"If we don't have the proper documentation, we will not pay. I have a responsibility to the St. George community," Felton said.

According to Orne's analysis, St. George owes $113 from 2014-2015, $86,000 from 2015-2016, $128,000 from 2016-2017, $163,000 from 2017-2018 and $553,000 for the current school year.

Felton acknowledged there was not a significant difference between the amount that RSU 13 says it is owed for the current school year and what St. George maintains is the amount. He said he was willing to mail out the following morning the checks already cut by the St. George school district for what it believes are the correct amounts.

The dispute is over how much St. George has to pay for students and special education services and additional costs for St. George's share of the RSU 13 debt service. There is also disagreement over other unsettled liabilities owed by St. George when it withdrew from RSU 13 in July 2015.

There are currently 86 high school students who reside in St. George. Thirty-three attend Oceanside High. Another 32 attend Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, 12 attend Lincoln Academy in Newcastle, eight go to Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, and one attends another school.

Last year, McDonald voiced concern that the St. George administration was incorrectly telling families that their students would not be accepted at Oceanside because of the lack of a tuition agreement.

RSU 13 is facing a difficult budget for 2019-2020. As the budget stands now, the total spending for 2019-2020 is projected at $31.4 million, an 8.2 percent ($2.4 million) increase from the 2018-2019 budget, with the majority due to a sharp increase in special education costs. A loss of revenue means that the school district will increase its tax commitments requested from the five communities by more than 10 percent.

Orne said that the disagreement over what was the proper amount per student arose largely because of the interpretation of St. George's former business manager, Scott Vaitones, who had been RSU 13's business manager. Vaitones left RSU 13 in June 2014 after a tumultuous year when he was placed on leave by then-Superintendent Lew Collins. There were public and private hearings held on his performance, which ended with an agreement that his contract would be shortened.

Orne told the Board May 2 that the relationship with Vaitones during 2016 when Vaitones was St. George's business manager was such that Vaitones held hostage checks that were owed to RSU 13.

Felton said the issue was not about Vaitones, but over St. George's wanting proper documentation before it pays bills.