June 19, 2018
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RSU 26 board to mull implications for remaining member after withdrawals

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

GLENBURN, Maine — Now that Glenburn and Veazie voters have spoken, members of the Riverside RSU school board are gearing up to consider what happens next and what the implications are for Orono.

In separate referendums Tuesday, residents of Glenburn and Veazie — two of the three towns that make up RSU 26 — voted to pull out of the school district they formed less than three years ago.

The withdrawal votes in both seceding towns were landslides. Glenburn’s tally was 1,816 to 567. In Veazie, the count stood at 821-217. The results left Orono the RSU’s sole member, effective July 1, 2013, according to the agreements that both towns negotiated with RSU 26.

What that means for the RSU’s member towns, including Orono, remains unclear, RSU 26 Superintendent Douglas Smith said Wednesday, adding that RSU 26 is among the first to go through a process he likened to a divorce based on irreconcilable differences.

“In the end, you’ve got to do what’s best for the children,” he said.

The discussion about what comes next is set to begin at the board’s next regular meeting, slated for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, at the Glenburn town office.

While the agenda for that meeting is still being firmed up, Smith said he hopes to be able to provide some financial data showing how the split-up could affect Orono.

Heartburn over cost-sharing and a desire to regain control over local education were cited as reasons for starting the withdrawal process by residents of both Veazie and Glenburn. They balked at the regional school unit’s system of weighted votes.

Veazie officials have projected their town’s annual post-withdrawal savings at about $170,000. They noted, however, they would have to pay $65,538 in outstanding RSU debt on the date the withdrawal becomes effective and 1.54 percent of any tax liability resulting from the withdrawal.

Glenburn officials estimated their cost would increase about $40,000 in the first year after withdrawal because the town would have to pay the full amount of their superintendent’s contract, as well as some other service costs and fees. They pointed out, however, that Glenburn wouldn’t have to pitch in toward infrastructure improvements at Orono’s aging schools.

Smith said nailing down the financial implications has been difficult because RSU 26 is among a handful of RSUs in the state to get this far in the withdrawal process. Further muddying the waters is uncertainty over whether the state will curtail school subsidies during this budget year, he said.

While he did not claim to have all the answers, Smith said the withdrawal votes mean that Glenburn and Veazie will be forming their own school departments.

Orono, however, will remain an RSU — despite the fact that it, at least initially, will be the only member.

“The law does not allow for the dissolution of an RSU as it is written now,” Smith said. To that end, it will continue to operate like an RSU, holding public hearings and referendums, he said.

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