GLENBURN, Maine — Voters in Glenburn and Veazie overwhelmingly backed a petition calling for the town to explore a potential withdrawal from RSU 26 during special elections Tuesday.
Glenburn tallied 325 votes in favor of beginning the secession process. Only 33 voters were opposed.
In Veazie, 173 votes approved the question, while 36 fellow residents voted against it.
“I knew that we had a lot of support for the effort but I also knew that there might be some differing opinions, and I wasn’t sure to what degree that would be,” said Glenburn resident Donna Cotton, a member of the group pushing to get Glenburn out of the school district
Residents of the two towns have cited what they see as a loss of local control over their schools and a large budget shortfall as reasons for withdrawal.
“We just don’t think that this was a good deal for the town of Glenburn to begin with,” Cotton said, adding that she believed residents felt forced into consolidation when faced with state-levied fines that existed when the state first called for school district reorganization three years ago.
Others residents have balked at the idea of offering up town funds to pursue a secession process that could just end in failure. Withdrawal opponents, some members of the school board and school district Superintendent Douglas Smith have said consolidation has offered program security and savings at the administrative level while allowing the schools and their offerings to grow.
“The citizens of Veazie voted overwhelmingly that they wanted to proceed to the next step and see what the options are,” said Rob Tomilson, a member of the five-person withdrawal petition group in Veazie. “It just shows the desire of the local people to have local control.”
The referendum questions in Veazie and Glenburn asked residents whether they support a withdrawal petition effort to pull their respective towns out of the school district. A yes vote would allow the towns to give up to $50,000 to a withdrawal committee which would use the funds to cover any legal costs incurred if the withdrawal process moves forward.
“The real work’s going to begin now,” Tomilson said.
In coming weeks, 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 will be formed and begin negotiations with the school board. Those negotiations will include everything from how the schools would divvy up assets and liabilities to the potential organization of administrative staff in the schools.
The plan that comes out of that committee then 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.
It’s a difficult-by-design process, Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin has said.
Tomilson and Cotton said their groups are prepared and look forward to seeing what comes out of the withdrawal committees.
“None of us who are a part of this effort thought this was going to be a piece of cake,” Cotton said. “We realize that will be an arduous process.”