Departing board member criticizes RSU 24 withdrawal process

Posted Aug. 15, 2012, at 6:16 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Nancy Glista, the Regional School Unit 24 board representative from Franklin, is leaving her post after deciding to move to Bar Harbor.

But before she bids adieu to the RSU, she contacted the Bangor Daily News with some words for the three communities seeking to leave the district and go it alone in their children’s education:

“I want to tell the three towns that will be voting to withdraw from the RSU: You will be making a big mistake if you do,” she said in a Wednesday interview. “It will hurt all the towns financially, and will also hurt education by keeping the district in perpetual turmoil.”

They are candid comments from a member of a school board that has largely remained quiet during preliminary negotiations with the Ellsworth Withdrawal Committee, which is trying to reach an agreement with the RSU and get the secession question to voters as soon as possible.

Ellsworth, Hancock and Lamoine all voted earlier this year to pursue withdrawal. Many residents in those communities have said the schools’ operations have become detached from and less accessible to residents and that the RSU has undermined the close links that used to exist between the schools and the communities they serve.

Glista said the arguments for local control are emotional, not reasonable. After all, she said, Hancock actually gained control with the creation of the RSU in 2009. Before that, the town’s students were tuitioned to high schools outside the town, and residents had no control. Now, Hancock has a seat on RSU 24’s Board.

Lamoine, which sends most of its students to Mount Desert Island High School in AOS 91, won’t gain any more control over their kids’ secondary education, she said.

The flip side to that argument is that whereas Hancock and Lamoine had sole control over their primary schools before regional consolidation, decisions for those facilities now rest with the entire board and all its community representatives.

Mark Rosborough, chairman of the Ellsworth Withdrawal Committee, said the motivations of the secessionists are reasonable and honest.

“In general, we’re looking to take back control of our educational system here in Ellsworth,” he said.

Glista also said Ellsworth has been the largest beneficiary of RSU consolidation, echoing figures from the RSU reflecting that Ellsworth had paid about 33 percent of the cost for capital improvement projects at the city’s schools, and had received 49 percent of all capital improvements districtwide.

Those figures are the same for expenditures made on technology and equipment, the RSU claims.

Rosborough said that even if running its own district costs more, at least financial decisions would revert to local-only control.

“Our big concerns are quality of education and the expense of education,” he said. “If it ends up costing us a little more to provide the education, at least it’s a local decision.”

Rosborough and the committee are continuing to come up with a counter proposal to the RSU’s plan for the withdrawal process. The committee had hoped to go to voters in November’s election, but meeting all the necessary deadlines in time seems unlikely at this point.

As for Glista, she’s hopeful that after working through all the numbers and getting a clearer view of what withdrawal would look like, Ellsworth, Hancock and Lamoine voters will choose stay with the RSU.

“I hate to see mistakes being made,” she said. “And even though I won’t be in this district anymore, I really care.”

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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