GLENBURN, Maine — Aside from some questions about the financial implications, residents who turned out for a public hearing Thursday night expressed no support for continuing their town’s membership in Riverside RSU.
Residents of Glenburn and Veazie — two of the three communities that comprise RSU 26 — have been exploring pulling out of the district for several months — a move that, if successful, essentially would end the 2-year-old partnership.
Last month, a group of Orono residents began a similar push but had yet to finish the signature-gathering process as of late last week.
Some reasons Glenburn and Veazie have cited for the proposed move are what they see as a loss of local control over their schools, a cost-sharing formula they say is inequitable, and a weighted vote system that they believe gives Orono the advantage when it comes to district decision making.
The Orono group cited a loss of local control over education.
During Thursday’s public hearing in Glenburn, which drew about a dozen residents and lasted about half an hour, proponents of the pullout cited many of the same reasons they did earlier for wanting to sever ties with Riverside RSU.
Resident Donna Cotton, a proponent of seceding, noted that the Maine Legislature a year ago did away with financial penalties for communities that opt not to join regional school units.
Brian Jacobs, also in favor of pulling out, said that the state aid for education funding formula for Glenburn would remain the same whether or not the school unit remains intact.
Referendum elections are set for Tuesday, March 27, in both Glenburn and Veazie at their respective town offices. The polls in Veazie will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., while voting in Glenburn is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Voters from both towns will be asked if they want to continue exploring the process of secession and to authorize up to $50,000 to fund that process.
If a majority of voters at the March 27 special elections favor the withdrawal bids, committees made up of a town councilor, a member of the withdrawal group, a member of the school board and a member of the public enter 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.
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 withdraw successfully, the third would be left in the school district on its own unless another municipality joined up.
In a recent interview, RSU Superintendent Doug Smith called the secession efforts “emotionally driven” and said he believes residents might reconsider once the withdrawal committees are formed and start negotiations with the school board.
Smith said any town that withdraws would have to pick up the costs of its own administrators, special education programs and transportation for students while paying back any money owed to the district, among other expenses now shared among the three communities.
Bangor Daily News writer Nick McCrae contributed to this report.