West Bath moves closer to vote on quitting school district

Posted Oct. 17, 2013, at 11:02 a.m.

WEST BATH, Maine — A petition to begin West Bath’s withdrawal from Regional School Unit 1 has been certified with more than the necessary number of signatures.

A date must now be set for the matter to go to a referendum vote. The town is hosting a public hearing on the petition at the West Bath School at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 21.

Robert Brown, who started the petition, said Wednesday that 127 signatures were certified by the town, more than the 102 required (10 percent of the number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election).

West Bath Town Administrator Jonathan Davis confirmed those numbers Thursday, and said next week’s meeting is intended to provide information for residents.

“We’re trying not to either support or not support (the effort),” he said. “We’re letting it play its course; we’re trying to facilitate the process, and to do that we feel the folks need to understand what the petition is, (and) what the options might be.”

RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel declined Thursday morning to comment on the petition, noting that the process is still young, and that he wants to get more information.

If the referendum is approved, negotiations would begin between West Bath and RSU 1. A negotiated withdrawal plan would then go back to West Bath for a second and final vote.

Meanwhile, West Bath is suing RSU 1 to recover $1.9 million the town believes it overpaid in the first four years of the school district’s existence. The lawsuit, filed last October, claims West Bath should have been assessed a total of $8.2 million over the course of four years, but instead paid $10.1 million. The suit claims RSU 1 owes West Bath $1.9 million, plus interest.

“It’s an issue of the problems we’ve had in cost-sharing, for West Bath as compared to other members of the RSU, and the increased cost to the taxpayers,” Brown said Wednesday. “I think it was the tax bite that finally got to us.”

Due to timing, the referendum will have to occur after the Nov. 5 general election, he said.

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