BREWER, Maine — Officials say joining the proposed Regional School Unit 15 is going to cost more than state penalties for not joining, and school and town leaders involved in the local school consolidation process are suggesting residents seriously weigh the two options.
“We’ll either pay the $107,000 [penalty in reduced state funding] or our 18 percent of $2.8 million over three years,” Kyle Casburn, chairman of the Orrington School Committee, who also serves as chairman of the RSU 15 committee, said Friday.
The projected increased costs for Orrington if residents choose to join RSU 15 would be around $504,000 in the first three years, based on current projections.
Paying the penalty is “the lesser of two evils,” Brewer Superintendent Daniel Lee said. “You’re asking Brewer to choose between a $244,000 penalty or 44 percent of that $2.8 million. That would be roughly $1.2 million. How can you vote for that?”
Brewer, Dedham, Orrington, SAD 63 and CSD 8 are working together to create RSU 15 under the state’s new school consolidation law. Residents in the 10 communities will vote Jan. 27 in a thumbs-up or thumbs-down referendum about joining the new consolidated school district.
While consolidating the central offices of the school units in the proposed district would save about $400,000 annually, those savings would be more than offset by projected increases. The increased costs to residents for joining RSU 15 are projected at $2.74 million over the first three years of operation.
The budget projections are based on assumptions that once the new RSU 15 district is formed, the salaries of teachers, education technicians, office, janitorial and other school employees would become uniform districtwide.
The costs of the new school district would be split among the 10 communities with 50 percent based on student population and the other 50 percent based on valuation. Under this cost-sharing plan, Brewer would pay 44 percent of the total cost of the RSU 15 budget, Orrington would pay 17.7 percent, Holden, 14.4 percent, Eddington, 10.8 percent, Dedham, 7.1 percent, Clifton 3.8 percent and the Airline communities would pay the remaining 2.2 percent.
Communities in RSU 15 that choose not to join the new school unit would face financial penalties ranging between $14,000 and $244,000, Casburn said.
Dedham would face a penalty of around $55,210 for not joining RSU 15; SAD 63, which includes the communities of Holden, Eddington and Clifton, would face a penalty of nearly $157,000; and CSD 8, which comprises Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn, would pay $14,214.
The Department of Education is akin to a “Maine mafia,” Penny Peasley, Clifton selectmen and RSU 15 planning committee member, said Friday.
“What they’re actually saying is vote my way or pay,” she said. “I don’t know what has happened to the right to vote without restriction. I thought we got out of that in the 1920s and ’30s. We’re stuck either way we go.”
Peasley said she’s worried about the 749 residents in her town.
“Their taxes will go up, up, up,” she said. “It is not saving money. There will be people who will lose their homes.”
Casburn said that with the projected cost increases he “would be stunned if it passed” in any of the 10 communities that vote in January. “It doesn’t make economic sense to do it,” he said.
“This is going to cost Orrington money either way,” Casburn said. “Staying independent [and paying the penalty] at least for the first year is the lesser of two evils.”
Public information meetings about the proposed Regional School Unit 15 consolidating plan among Brewer, Dedham, Orrington, SAD 63 and CSD 8 are being held in each community in the next few weeks. Residents will vote on joining the new school district Jan. 27. Following is the schedule of meetings:
— 6 p.m. Dec. 8, Brewer High School library.
— 7 p.m. Dec. 10, Airline Community School, Aurora.
— 6:30 p.m. Dec. 15, Holbrook Middle School, Holden.
— 6:30 p.m. Jan. 7, Center Drive School, Orrington.
— 6:30 p.m. Jan. 13, Dedham School gym.