AURORA, Maine — After controversy and heated debate, the Community School District 8 board voted 7-3 to join with Brewer and Regional School Unit 15 during the Airline School Committee’s meeting on Wednesday.
“It was important to set a course and make a decision,” said interim Superintendent David Anderson. “It’s an emotional topic, but the deadline is [Dec. 15] so we needed to move forward.”
RSU 15 chairman Carl Casburn agreed.
“We welcome them to come and participate,” he said. “This will allow us to move forward more confidently as far as our structure and finances are concerned.”
The vote came just weeks after the Airline School Consolidation Committee unanimously recommended that CSD 8, which includes Aurora, Amherst, Great Pond and Osborne, join with the Ellsworth school system.
Residents questioned the committee’s recommendation and the CSD 8 board voted to nullify the committee’s choice. The board then sent out fliers asking residents in the school system’s four towns what they thought.
Controversy erupted after the flier was released with many residents claiming it was inaccurate and misleading.
The flier read: “We decided to go with the Ellsworth group due to the multiple small school makeup of the group, our chance to have a vote on the new school board and the polite and cooperative nature of our talks.
“None of these things we had with our talks to the Brewer group,” it stated.
Carter Jones, an Amherst resident, said that the statements were inaccurate and that CSD 8 would receive a vote on the school board in Brewer and Brewer officials had always been honest and accommodating.
“For some reason [the board] just wants to go to Ellsworth,” he said.
Jones, who is also an Airline School Consolidation Committee alternate, took to the streets and gathered 200 signatures of residents in support of joining with Brewer.
Jones turned over the resident signatures to interim Superintendent Anderson on July 14. At the CSD 8 board’s July 17 meeting, it was announced that 80 residents returned their fliers and by a 42-38 vote supported going with Brewer.
“It would have been nice if [the people that supported Brewer] had let us know in the beginning so we didn’t have to waste so much of our own time and money,” said CSD 8 board chairman Les Hutchinson before Wednesday’s vote. “If it all falls apart, I hope [the people that supported Brewer] stand up again, and if it works out then good job.”
Hutchinson said that many members of the board had spent money out of their own pockets and took time away from their families to attend nearly 30 meetings over the past year regarding school consolidation.
Hutchinson and other board members found that Brewer was going to share its $8.1 million debt with those in the RSU, whereas Ellsworth was going to have each town keep their own debt.
Casburn said that the debt will be spread out among the towns in the RSU using the amount of children each town contributes to the RSU and average property value to determine how much each town pays.
Many residents at Wednesday’s meeting, including Jones, wanted to go to Brewer and RSU 15 because they had fewer state-assessed low-performing schools than Ellsworth.
“In the end it’s about our kids’ education and not about money,” said Jones.