ELLSWORTH, Maine — The race is on for pro-secession groups in three Hancock County towns to convince voters that leaving their regional school unit is the best idea.
For months, committees in Hancock, Lamoine and Ellsworth have negotiated with Regional School Unit 24 to craft a document outlining what a post-withdrawal scenario would look like. In June, the agreements were approved by the state, and supporters of withdrawal shifted gears.
“We have a responsibility to get the best information out there we can,” said Mark Rosborough of Ellsworth. Rosborough chaired that city’s withdrawal committee, and while that group’s task is now complete, its members are moving forward with a campaign to win the hearts and minds of voters in Ellsworth.
Rosborough said the campaign wouldn’t begin in earnest until September, at which point his group will present an anticipated budget for an independent Ellsworth school district’s 2014-2015 school year.
Residents can expect a full-blown political campaign by withdrawal supporters, Rosborough said. That means phone calls, lawn signs, fliers and advertising in local media.
“We need to get a good turnout, to get a good sampling of people to go and vote, whether they support it or not,” he said.
That’s because the state law outlining the withdrawal process requires that at least 50 percent of the turnout in the last gubernatorial election show up to the polls for a withdrawal vote. If less than that number show up — even if the majority of voters support withdrawal — the secession bid will fail.
In Ellsworth, that means 1,671 people will need to vote on the withdrawal question, which will be no small task in a year when there are no statewide or national elections in Maine. In Lamoine and Hancock, turnout must hit 451 and 515, respectively.
Lamoine’s withdrawal committee has disbanded, according to Stu Marckoon, administrative assistant to the selectmen in that town. He said the selectmen have appointed an “Education Planning Committee” which will put together a report of budget numbers and other information for voters.
Marckoon said the committee is not dedicated to supporting or opposing withdrawal, which “would be a highly inappropriate use of government resources.” Unlike in Ellsworth and Hancock, he said he’s not aware of any Lamoine group that plans to campaign ahead of the referendum.
“I don’t hear much scuttlebutt one way or the other,” he said.
Hancock Concerned Citizens, the group that originally petitioned for withdrawal from RSU 24, will drive the pro-withdrawal campaign in that town. Member Susan Perconti said they would prepare at least two budget scenarios: One with Hancock operating independently and another with the town combining some services with Lamoine and the much larger Ellsworth.
Without the RSU, Hancock — and the other towns — “will have to hire a superintendent, have a central office, special education, IT support,” Perconti said. “We’re looking to work with the other communities to share those costs, but right now it’s difficult to plan because we don’t know how each town will vote.”
Each town is required by law to have one public forum on the withdrawal question no later than Oct. 26, but there will likely be more than one meeting that meets the requirement.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.