ELLSWORTH, Maine — Despite a glitch in the voting process in Steuben, the towns that form the new Regional School Unit 24 are just about ready to seat their newly elected board members.
Voters in the 12 towns participating in the new RSU last week elected 14 representatives to serve on the board. The new RSU joins the schools in Ellsworth, the Union 92 towns of Lamoine, Hancock, Mariaville, Waltham and Eastbrook, and the Union 96 towns of Franklin, Sullivan, Sorrento, Sullivan, Steuben and Winter Harbor.
The process went smoothly except in Steuben where a posting mistake has raised questions about whether the election there was legal and the results valid.
Union 96 Superintendent Bill Webster explained that the town clerk posted a notice of election, which is the usual procedure for a statewide election, rather than posting a warrant, which is the method used for municipal elections.
“Legally, it’s a municipal election,” Webster said Wednesday. “School board members are municipal officials, so they should have had a warrant for each town.”
Warrants were issued in the other 11 towns in the proposed RSU, he said.
The discrepancy has raised questions of whether the election in Steuben was a legal one and whether the results are valid. Webster has consulted with the school department attorney and with an attorney from the Maine Municipal Association to get an opinion on that issue. He said it’s possible they could determine that the process was not legal but that the results are valid.
There was just one candidate on the ballot, Geoff Zentz, and he garnered the most votes despite a strong write-in effort.
Webster said he hoped to get an opinion from the attorneys soon, but by the end of the day Wednesday, the issue was still unresolved.
It was unclear Wednesday whether questions about the Steuben election will delay the formation of the new school board. Omar Norton, the interim Union 92 superintendent and the interim secretary for the interim RSU board, said Wednesday he did not think the mix-up would affect the formation of the board. Even without a representative from Steuben, there would be a quorum for the board once the representatives from the other towns were sworn in, he said.
Norton noted that he too was waiting to hear the opinion of the attorneys on the issue.
Once election results are certified, the state Board of Education will officially notify the new board members. The board’s first meeting has tentatively been scheduled for March 3.
When that meeting is held, Norton said, the board will elect a presiding officer and adopt its rules of procedure. Norton said they also will review the weighted voting procedure which is based on population. The new board also will begin the process of hiring a superintendent and receive an update on the development of a budget for the new school district for the 2009-10 school year.
Staff members from the three school units already have been working on a variety of issues related to the start of the new RSU. Some work already has been done in the areas of financing and accounting, technology, curriculum, athletics and special education, according to information provided in transition newsletters distributed by the superintendents.
Under the school consolidation law, the new district must be ready to begin operations for the start of the new school year on July 1.
The new school board members are, serving three-year terms: Julie Curtis, Eastbrook; Leigh Guilford, Ellsworth; Jonathan Morren, Lamoine; Geoff Zentz, Steuben; Jeff Alley, Winter Harbor; two-year terms: Dick Gray, Ellsworth; Annie Perry, Gouldsboro; Rich Malaby, Hancock; Randy Bragg, Mariaville; James Buteau, Waltham; and one-year terms: Alice Dow, Ellsworth; Jenna Shorey, Franklin; Janet Wilpan, Sorrento; and Michael Pinkham, Sullivan.