Orono-area school district unsure about who can talk to who about what on withdrawal efforts

Posted May 09, 2012, at 11:04 p.m.

GLENBURN, Maine — Uncertainty, confusion and gray areas continue to dominate withdrawal efforts in RSU 26 as secession committees from Veazie and Glenburn begin to work out plans for leaving the school district they share with Orono.

At the center of debates during Wednesday night’s RSU 26 board meeting was how the board would communicate with the withdrawal committees and what role the board would play in the committees’ planning.

In her presentation before the board, Veazie withdrawal committee chairwoman Janine Raquet said her group has met twice since its formation late last month and hasn’t been able to iron out a timeline, let alone begin crafting a withdrawal plan to bring to the board for discussions and negotiations.

“We are very much in information-gathering mode right now,” Raquet said.

She said withdrawal committee members will need to get information from the school district in order to formulate a plan. She also suggested that the committee will need to share individual pieces of that plan with school board members along the way to gauge the board’s response. Waiting to present a full plan that could fall apart completely if the board chose to nix it would be a slow, cumbersome process, she said.

Board members have been cautioned that they shouldn’t have discussions with withdrawal groups about items that might come up during negotiations later in the process. The school board members are tasked with acting in the best interests of the district, so some on the board questioned whether the board should assist the committees by providing information and feedback.

At the same time, state statute requires that a board representative serve on each withdrawal committee, meaning some members may be in a conflicted position.

“How can someone sit on a board, then walk around the table and sit on the other side?” Superintendent Douglas Smith said.

Several members of the board at first suggested that the board should offer little if any aid to the withdrawal groups. At one point, committee members Sue O’Roak and Frances Neubauer said that it seemed the withdrawal committee was trying to push secession work onto the school board itself.

By the end of the meeting, the consensus of the board was that it would offer feedback as the committees bring their plans forward on a piecemeal basis and the board would gather — even if it had to schedule special meetings — to hear pieces of withdrawal committees’ plans as they’re formed.

“When you want to discuss something, we’re going to be here,” Glenburn representative Lauren Romain said.

John Higgins, chairman of the Glenburn withdrawal committee and school district board member, was not at the meeting, so the board didn’t hear an update from Glenburn’s committee.

The laws regarding secession from school districts are still new, almost completely untested and leave a lot up to interpretation. Even lawyers and officials in the Department of Education haven’t been able to provide the school district with solid answers, Smith said.

“The legislation is poorly crafted,” Smith said. “It’s very gray, and it hasn’t established clear guidelines.”

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