Etna selectmen ask residents if there’s interest in withdrawing from school district

Posted Sept. 06, 2012, at 6:53 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 07, 2012, at 6:37 a.m.

ETNA, Maine — Residents of Etna discussed with the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday night the possibility of leaving embattled Regional School Unit 19.

RSU 19 is facing a budget crisis, which may include more than a $2 million budget shortfall. Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans are in the RSU.

A group of about 20 residents attended the informational meeting at Etna’s town office to ask questions and explore with selectmen the possibility of withdrawing from the RSU.

Many in the crowd were more interested in financial questions that the board wasn’t prepared to answer.

“Whether we decide to leave the RSU or not, it will not get us out of the liabilities we have currently. We’re saddled to this, no matter how it works out,” said Selectman Brian Curtain, who added that the withdrawal process would probably take a year or two.

Board Chairman Andy Watson said the biggest reason for the discussion was that he felt Etna was being overbilled by the district. He said Dixmont selectmen told him recently that they think that town, too, is being overbilled.

Watson said he and other selectmen talked with RSU 19 Superintendent Greg Potter on Wednesday before the meeting and discussed the matter with him. The amount of money Etna and Dixmont brought to RSU 19 is being disputed, said Watson.

“It’s all up to the audits. We’re still waiting for them,” said Watson.

Audits on RSU 19 are still being done, Potter said Wednesday.

“[The auditors] have been in to review the books. They’ve requested some follow-up information. I should be hearing from them fairly soon,” he said.

Potter said he has visited with area town managers and selectmen to get their thoughts on the budget situation. Potter brought the matter to the public’s attention during a meeting at Nokomis High School on Aug. 14. Potter explained that due to overestimated fund balance carryovers and the fact that district towns were not billed for debt service, RSU 19 is about $2 million in debt.

RSU 19’s budget committee will meet at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“We’re going to propose a plan and work on that draft plan with the budget committee,” said Potter, who added that he has a potential list of cuts for the workshop. A school board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 18.

Watson urged residents to attend the meetings.

“It is crucial that anyone who’s interested in this to get involved,” he said.

Watson said it would be easier to withdraw from the school district if Dixmont also withdrew. The two towns share Etna-Dixmont School, which houses grades pre-K through 8.

“There’s no rule or law that says we have to [have Dixmont with us to withdraw],” Watson said Thursday. “[But] if we do it together, we’ll have a lot more negotiating power.”

None of the residents at Wednesday night’s meeting expressed a strong interest in withdrawing. Instead, they asked Watson to talk with representatives from Dixmont to gauge interest there. One resident said that there would be no point in forming a committee to explore withdrawing if Dixmont residents wouldn’t go along with it.

Watson said the most recent count of students, done on April 1, 2012, revealed that 205 Etna students attend RSU 19 schools, while Dixmont has 154 students.

If Etna did withdraw from RSU 19, Watson said options are available for students to attend other schools. Etna previously sent students to Hermon High School, he said.

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