Several midcoast communities to vote on leaving RSU 20

Posted May 29, 2012, at 6:09 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Residents of several midcoast communities will be able to vote this summer about whether or not they want to pursue withdrawal from RSU 20.

The vote can’t come soon enough, according to one man who has been working for a few months to try to separate the former SAD 34 communities from the former SAD 56 communities. After the state school consolidation law passed in 2009, the now-unified district has had a hard time making things work.

“The referendum question really is a permission slip,” Steve Hutchings, a math teacher at Belfast Area High School and a coordinator of the withdrawal effort, said Tuesday. “It’s just a matter of will they give their OK to pursue or explore alternate means of education. It’s essentially to go back to normal.”

“Normal,” Hutchings and others think, would look like this: Belfast, Belmont, Northport, Morrill, Swanville and Searsmont residents would decide to leave the beleaguered RSU.

Residents in those towns except Searsmont will vote on that question June 12 in their community polling places during the primary election.

Searsmont residents will vote July 10 on the withdrawal referendum, with a public hearing on the matter scheduled for 7 p.m. June 28.

If residents want to pursue withdrawal, it won’t happen right away. The next step would be for each town to form a committee to look at the pros and cons of leaving the district. The committee would have a selectman or council member, a resident who petitioned to withdraw, an at-large community member, a local school board representative and another director of RSU 20.

Of the district’s remaining communities, Frankfort already has voted in favor of pursuing withdrawal and joining SAD 22 in Hampden and Winterport.

Only Stockton Springs and Searsport have no known withdrawal efforts at this moment.

Bruce Mailloux, the outgoing RSU 20 superintendent who will be retiring this summer, said he is not surprised at the apparent support for splintering the district.

“I don’t blame people. The whole thing was poorly done from the state’s perspective,” he said of consolidation. “It was an ill-conceived idea. It was inappropriately implemented. It was nothing but a pain in everybody’s backside since it started.”

Hutchings said more than 40 people brought petitions around the six targeted towns in the last few weeks. They needed to get the signatures of 10 percent of people in each town who voted in the 2010 gubernatorial election in order to get the withdrawal referendum on the ballot. They succeeded, he said.

“The citizens took over,” Hutchings said. “They went neighborhood by neighborhood, talking to their friends. It’s a true grass-roots thing. People are much more aware that they’ve got to be involved with the educational system. People are pretty fired up.”

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