St. George should start school district withdrawal, panel says

Posted Jan. 15, 2013, at 8:55 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 16, 2013, at 8:31 a.m.

ST. GEORGE, Maine — Selectmen will consider Jan. 28 whether to begin the formal process of having the town withdraw from Regional School Unit 13.

The Town Education Committee has reached a consensus that the town should begin the process while also working with the school district in hopes of being able to reach an agreement that would keep St. George part of RSU 13, according to committee Chairman Terry Driscoll.

John Snow, chairman of the St. George Board of Selectmen, said Tuesday that the additional cuts in state aid brought on by the governor’s budget curtailment have reinforced concerns about possible cuts within the school district. RSU 13 has cut numerous positions over the past few years, with St. George residents voicing concern about the impact on education offered in the district.

Representatives from both the education committee and selectmen met over the past month with superintendents from two neighboring school districts to discuss whether those districts could accept the approximately 100 students from St. George.

The meeting went well with the RSU 40 superintendent and business manager, according to Selectman William Reinhardt.

“They were told that the school has excess capacity and would welcome discussion and be accepting of any and all St. George students. They were told further that this would have to be discussed with the school board but no reason could be seen why the students would not be welcome and it was believed that the students could be accepted without an increase in staff,” Reinhardt stated.

RSU 40 Superintendent Susan Pratt agreed Tuesday that the meeting went well but stressed that any decision was one for the board.

Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro is RSU 40’s high school.

Reinhardt also told the board that he and Driscoll met with the Five-Town Community School District superintendent as well as that district’s board chairman and vice chairman and were told Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport could probably take 70 to 80 St. George students. Reinhardt told the board that if all 100 St. George students wanted to go to Camden, there would have to be a lottery held to decide who would go.

The two town representatives also met with the private Watershed School and were told it could take seven or eight students and that there was an application process for students.

Residents held a nonbinding referendum in November in which residents supported continuing with the process of separating from RSU 13, which also contains Rockland, Thomaston, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing.

The first step in formally starting the withdrawal process is launching a petition that must collect signatures of town residents equal to at least 10 percent of the votes cast by town residents in the previous gubernatorial election. If the public then approves the withdrawal in a formal vote, a withdrawal committee would have to be created to develop a plan that would still require the state education commissioner’s approval. The town would also have to negotiate with the district on terms of the withdrawal, Driscoll said.

He said even while the withdrawal process was ongoing, the town could work with RSU 13 officials about ways to remain in the RSU.

RSU 13 Board Chairman Esther “Tess” Kilgour said she was not surprised that the town was considering beginning the withdrawal process.

“The board should do what is best for their community,” Kilgour said.

She said any decision by the town would not affect St. George students while they remain at Oceanside High School.

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