ORONO, Maine — Now the real work starts for the two towns attempting to withdraw from RSU 26.
The four-person withdrawal committees from Glenburn and Veazie selected their chairmen — John Higgins, who also is a school board member for Glenburn, and Janine Raquet, a Veazie resident — and the school board decided how it wants to move forward with negotiations with the two groups.
Veazie and Glenburn are in relatively uncharted territory, being among the first towns in the state to reach this point in the withdrawal process.
One of the unanswered questions is whether a conflict of interest exists for members of the withdrawal committee who also serve on the school board. According to statute, one representative on each withdrawal committee has to be a school board representative.
School board representatives are meant to act in the best interests of the school district, so being part of a committee that is trying to secede might mean the individual has to push for contradictory goals, board members said. The question is whether, when it comes time to vote on an agreement, a board member who also serves on the secession committee could vote on a secession agreement they were a part of from the other side of the aisle.
State statute doesn’t specify how that relationship is supposed to work. Veazie board member Travis Noyes called that issue “convoluted” and “messy,” pointing out that “the attorneys don’t even have case law to follow.”
Legal counsel for the board has recommended that the two board members serving on the withdrawal groups — Higgins and Chris Dalton of Veazie — recuse themselves from votes related to the withdrawal deal in order to avoid conflict of interest.
Dalton recused himself from the night’s votes; Higgins did not.
The board voted to negotiate with both withdrawal groups at the same time but will break into discussions with an individual group if discussions get bogged down over particular contracts or division of assets.
The board also voted that the full board would participate in negotiations with the committee, though Superintendent Douglas Smith suggested it form a smaller subcommittee to enter discussions with the groups.
“This is too important for us to not be fully involved in every aspect and understand,” Glenburn representative Rose Thompson said.
The committees and full school board have 90 days after the formation of the committees to reach an agreement that would go to the Department of Education for approval, according to statute.
Both the Veazie and Glenburn committees will meet before the next full board meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 9. The groups will bring their plans before the board at that point for early discussion.
The withdrawal groups had not set times and dates for their first meetings as of Wednesday night.