GLENBURN, Maine — The Maine Department of Education will decide whether to approve school district withdrawal plans from Veazie and Glenburn in coming weeks after the RSU 26 board of directors gave its approval to the proposals on Aug. 9.
Michael O’Connor, a Glenburn town councilor and member of Glenburn’s withdrawal committee, said both Veazie and Glenburn sent their plans to the Department of Education after last week’s meeting.
The two withdrawal proposals are among the first to go before Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen and his staff for consideration, according to department spokesman David Connerty-Marin.
“The commissioner is not weighing in on whether he thinks it’s a good idea or not,” but rather whether it provides for the educational needs of the students in the town and appropriately handles the division of assets and liabilities among the towns after the potential withdrawal, Connerty-Marin said Monday.
Bowen has 60 days to review the plan, ask questions of the withdrawal groups and either approve the agreement or recommend changes, according to Connerty-Marin, who said the review isn’t likely to take that long.
“We’re crossing our fingers that we’ll have to make minimal adjustments,” school district Superintendent Douglas Smith said Monday morning.
The withdrawal committees hope to hold the final withdrawal vote during this year’s November election. In order to meet that deadline, O’Connor said the withdrawal committee would need to receive notice of the commissioner’s decision by Aug. 28.
Then a public hearing would be scheduled in advance of the final vote by residents. In order to pass, the withdrawal plan needs favorable votes from a majority of voters. The number of voters must exceed 50 percent of the number of residents who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election.
Any major delays could mean the towns won’t be able to meet that goal, committee members have said.
Connerty-Marin said 15 communities in the state are actively in the process of attempting to withdraw from their school districts and another 10 are considering it. He said he expects the Department of Education will receive several other withdrawal plans during the coming months.
Under the withdrawal deals brokered between Orono, Veazie and Glenburn, if Glenburn successfully withdraws, Glenburn would take over the school district’s business offices and would hire Smith because the offices for the district are located in the Glenburn school. The towns still left in the school district would then contract to use Glenburn’s services for one year.
Committees from Veazie and Glenburn have been working on plans for their towns since residents took up a petition to consider withdrawal and then voted overwhelmingly to explore withdrawal and negotiate with the district’s board.
O’Connor thanked the school district board for its cooperation and hard work throughout the sometimes-heated withdrawal process, citing its willingness to set up meetings nearly every week to receive updates on the work of the withdrawal committees.
“I personally feel that the RSU 26 Board negotiated in good faith in a fair and appropriate manner — they represented their constituents while not unduly holding up the process,” O’Connor wrote in an email Monday.
The next RSU 26 school board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, at the Glenburn town office.