AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would ease the requirements for municipalities that want to pull out of their regional school units is headed to the Legislature with a unanimous show of support from the Education Committee.
LD 783, An Act to Change the Voting Requirements for the Withdrawal of a Municipality from a Regional School Unit, is a carryover bill that has been under debate since last year and has been the subject of considerable negotiations and amendments.
Under current law, municipalities that want to withdraw from regional school districts can do so by a simple majority vote of their citizens as long as turnout for a withdrawal vote equals 50 percent of the turnout in the most recent gubernatorial election. However, that vote must occur by Jan. 1, 2015, after which a two-thirds vote will be required.
The law is different for regional school units that were created under the school consolidation law that former Gov. John Baldacci shepherded to passage during his second term. Those municipalities are required to garner two-thirds votes, both now and in the future.
LD 783 would change state law to require a simple majority vote for withdrawal. The bill, as amended, retains the turnout requirement.
After making further amendments Wednesday, the Education Committee voted unanimously to recommend that the full Legislature pass the bill. As amended, it would eliminate the Jan. 1, 2015, sunset provision and require municipalities to achieve a simple majority vote in favor of withdrawal, as opposed to the two-thirds requirement in law now.
Rep. Richard Malaby, R-Hancock, who sponsored the bill, said he was pleased with the amendments, though he acknowledged that if the bill passes it has the potential to increase the cost of education in Maine because towns that withdraw from their RSUs will still need superintendents and a range of other educational services that are usually shared within regional school districts, such as art and music instruction.
“I do fear that there is going to be higher education costs associated with it but there will also be better local control,” he said. “In the short term, it’s going to be an improvement.”
With a unanimous endorsement from the Education Committee, the bill is likely to gain considerable support in the full Legislature, though Gov. Paul LePage’s support of it is far from certain. Last year, the Department of Education testified in favor of keeping the state’s withdrawal laws as they are, including the requirement of a two-thirds vote.
The legislation comes at a time when towns throughout Maine are considering withdrawal from regional school districts.