Glenburn to vote on withdrawal from school district

Posted Feb. 09, 2012, at 10:06 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 10, 2012, at 8:23 a.m.

GLENBURN, Maine — Voters will decide on March 27 whether Glenburn should move forward in its attempt to withdraw from RSU 26.

The four town councilors at Thursday’s regular council meeting unanimously approved a petition calling for the town to pull out of the school district it shares with Veazie and Orono. Councilor John Caruso was absent for that portion of the meeting.

Friends of Glenburn School, the group of about half a dozen residents who led the petition drive, gathered 320 validated signatures. They only needed 196 — or 10 percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election — to move the withdrawal bid before voters.

Council Chairman Michael O’Connor said during the meeting that the number of signatures gathered door-to-door, at sporting events and in stores was impressive, considering there are only about 3,000 registered voters in Glenburn.

The withdrawal group had to gather signatures three times because the town asked the group to rewrite the petition three times. Attorneys advised them that the original language didn’t follow the wording laid out in state statute.

In all, Friends of Glenburn School member Donna Cotton estimates the group gathered more than 1,000 signatures over the course of the three petition attempts.

She said after the meeting that it was a “huge relief” to have the council accept the petition so the town can move forward in the withdrawal process

Now the town must draft the referendum and have it available at least 30 days before the March 27 special election.

A public hearing on the withdrawal proposal will be held at 7 p.m. March 8 during the regular council meeting.

The referendum question will call for the appropriation of $50,000 from the town’s undesignated fund balance to cover any legal fees associated with the withdrawal process. O’Connor said it’s unlikely the town will spend anywhere near that amount. Whatever amount is left over will be put back into the fund balance, according to town attorney Thomas Russell.

If a majority of voters at the March 27 special election favor the withdrawal bid, a committee made up of a town councilor, a member of the withdrawal group, a member of the school board and a member of the public enters into negotiations with the school board.

After that, the plan that comes out of that committee has to be approved in another election by a two-thirds vote. Then the plan has to be approved by the state Department of Education.

“We’ve initiated the process now,” O’Connor said, “and I think we need to move ahead in a timely manner to assure we’re ahead of the curve.”

Groups in Veazie and Orono also are working on petitions to give their own towns the opportunity to withdraw from the school district.

However, not all three communities can withdraw from the school district because that would effectively dissolve RSU 26, which isn’t allowed, according to Maine Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin. If two towns were to successfully withdraw, the third would be left in the school district on its own unless another town joined up.

O’Connor stressed that if the withdrawal committee and town aren’t cautious and diligent while advancing through these next steps, “we could get passed while we’re in the slow lane.”

The Glenburn residents leading the push to leave the school district have complained that their town is shouldering a disproportionate burden in the school district’s attempts to close a $2 million budget deficit.

Because of a weighted voting system and the fact that the number of school board representatives from each town is based on population, Orono holds a majority vote in any school board decision. According to Cotton, that means Glenburn’s and Veazie’s best interests can be easily overlooked.

“I feel Glenburn will never receive adequate representation within the RSU,” Cotton said. “It’s just time to get out.”

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