Ellsworth Council throws weight behind RSU 24 secession

Posted July 30, 2012, at 2:31 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Proponents of Ellsworth’s withdrawal from Regional School Unit 24 received the official support of the City Council after a unanimous vote Friday morning.

Councilors voted to throw their weight behind placing the secession effort on November’s ballot, to begin operations as a municipal school district on July 31, 2013, if the vote is successful.

The council also stated that a new district should accept tuition students from other municipalities — including Hancock and Lamoine, which also are working on plans to leave RSU 24 — “within the capacity of [Ellsworth’s] buildings.”

The Withdrawal Committee asked the councilors for their support as part of its planning to put the city’s withdrawal question to voters in November. Before that can happen, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Education must rubber-stamp the committee’s plan — including provisions for maintaining current contracts and for negotiating how the burden of education will be divided between the RSU and the potential new district.

Councilor John Moore, who also is a member of the Withdrawal Committee, told councilors that the committee is working with Lamoine and Hancock as the three communities work to leave the RSU. Voters in each town have criticized the RSU, saying it’s too far-removed from residents.

RSU 24 was one of about two dozen multiple town RSUs created in Maine, all in rural areas, in 2008. Prior to its creation, Ellsworth had a school district all to itself, but accepted tuition students from other municipalities.

“In a way, what we’re trying to do is re-create … the system we had in place prior to joining the RSU,” Moore said. “Historically, we’ve handled a great deal of Hancock students. … We’ve also in the past handled some tuition students from Lamoine.”

“Part of the rationale behind this is to lend them a hand so that when they draw up [their proposals], they’ll have the knowledge … that their students will be taken care of,” Moore said.

In the coming school year, Lamoine will send 30 students to Ellsworth High School and Hancock will send 64, said RSU 24 Data Manager Donna Searchfield. In addition, Hancock will send 14 students to Sumner Memorial High School, which also is part of RSU 24, while Lamoine will send none. The two towns also send students to Mount Desert Island High School, which is part of Alternative Organizational Structure 91.

Mark Rosborough, the committee’s chairman, set an Aug. 1 deadline for finishing the plan and shipping it to Augusta for the commissioner’s read-through.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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