Maine supreme court upholds SAD 37 ruling

Posted Feb. 19, 2010, at 9:37 p.m.

COLUMBIA FALLS, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday upheld last year’s ruling from Washington County Superior Court that required the board of selectmen in each of the towns of SAD 37 to sign and post warrants and notices of election regarding the closing of the Columbia Falls and Cherryfield elementary schools.

SAD 37 comprises Cherryfield, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Harrington, Addison and Milbridge.

The ruling verifies action SAD 37 took last spring when it held a referendum and closed the Columbia Falls School.

David P. Beal, SAD 37/RSU 37 superintendent, said Friday he was quite pleased by the ruling.

“We followed the law very carefully in the process,” he said. “We had hoped it would go this way.”

Two selectmen, Vance Pineo of Columbia Falls and Arthur Tatangelo of Cherryfield, filed an appeal contending that municipal officers have the discretion to refuse to sign a warrant they believe is legally deficient. Specifically, they asserted the warrants were deficient because the vote of SAD 37’s board of directors in 2009 to close the elementary schools did not comply with the two-thirds supermajority requirement by state law.

In its ruling, however, the Law Court said the two-thirds supermajority law applies only to regional school units and, although SAD 37 is now RSU 37, it was not an RSU at the time of the vote.

SAD 37 directors voted to close the two schools on March 16, 2009, and set a referendum for May 12.

By the end of April, however, neither Cherryfield’s nor Columbia Falls’ selectmen had signed or posted the warrants in their communities, and SAD 37 sought a court injunction so the elections could go forward. Pineo and Tatanglo, along with the towns of Columbia Falls and Cherryfield and one parent from each of the ele-mentary schools, filed a civil lawsuit against SAD 37 to force invalidation of the elections and to prevent the elementary schools from closing.

The court consolidated the two cases, and on May 1, 2009, that injunction was granted in Washington County Superior Court.

In its ruling this week, the Law Court concluded that SAD 37 had met its burden of proof for the injunction because the signing of the warrants was a ministerial act and the selectmen could not refuse to comply.

The elections took place on May 12. The voters of Columbia Falls approved the closing of their town’s elementary school. Cherryfield voters did not.

The Law Court stated that at the time the selectmen requested the injunction, existing law did not apply to SAD 37 because it was not a regional school unit yet.

The issue of closing another RSU/SAD 37 school, however, still is being discussed.

Beal said a school board meeting is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Narraguagus High School in Harrington. The long-range planning committee has recommended the closure of one of the district’s schools.

“The long-range committee has not said which one should be closed, however,” Beal said. “That would be up to the board of directors to determine.”

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