Legislature OKs Surry joining Union 93

Posted May 25, 2011, at 6:38 p.m.

SURRY, Maine — The Legislature has given its approval to a proposal that will allow Surry to join School Union 93.

Both the House and the Senate this week approved the legislation sponsored by Sen. Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth. The measure now awaits Gov. Paul LePage’s signature.

The bill was submitted as emergency legislation and will become effective as soon as the governor signs it.

“We could have a five-town union before the start of school in the fall,” Union 93 Superintendent Mark Hurvitt said Thursday. The school union currently serves the towns of Blue Hill, Brooksville, Castine and Penobscot.

Initial advice from school attorneys indicated that no referendums will be required in each town to approve the addition of Surry to the school union, Hurvitt said, but the school boards in all five towns will have to approve it. Those votes will take place later this summer, Hurvitt said.

The legislation already had the support of all the school boards before lawmakers approved it, but each board must again approve the change for it to become effective, he said.

Surry had been a member of Union 92 before the school reorganization law was passed in 2007. Most Union 92 member towns opted to join RSU 24, which includes Ellsworth and 11 other towns, while Trenton joined AOS 91 on Mount Desert Island.

Surry, meanwhile, threw its lot in with the towns in Union 93 and Union 76 (Deer Isle, Stonington, Sedgwick and Brooklin) in an effort to form a nine-town AOS. Although voters in Surry and Castine approved the new district, voters in the remaining towns rejected the proposal and it died.

While those votes left school unions 93 and 76 intact, it left Surry stranded, and, according to the language of the bill, because of its geographical location, with no practical way to comply with the state’s consolidation law. The law also prevented the state’s education commissioner from unilaterally adding new members to an existing school union.

With Union 92 disbanded, Surry contracted with Union 93 for administrative services.

The bill that now allows Surry to join Union 93, Hurvitt said, has moved through the Legislature, surprisingly, under the radar. He said he anticipated more scrutiny since the intent of the legislation runs counter to the spirit of the state’s consolidation law.

“Basically, this opens the door for other unions to add towns,” he said. “That was not the intention of the consolidation act. I think this reflects a change of attitude in the Legislature. This Legislature seems to be more open to local decision-making rather than state mandates.”

The addition of Surry should be seamless since Union 93 has provided administrative services to Surry for the past several years. Budgeting also will not be an issue, Hurvitt said. The  cost-sharing formula for the five towns for the 2011-12 school year was developed this year as if Surry already was a member of the union.

Hurvitt said he planned to check with school attorneys one last time on the procedural issues  before presenting the question to the five school boards. He said he expects to develop a short rationale for the five-town union to the school boards next month and to schedule votes for each of those boards in July.

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