WEST BATH, Maine — Residents voted 185-64 Tuesday to initiate the process of withdrawing from Regional School Unit 1.
A long process now lies ahead, culminating with a second and final vote required to allow the town to withdraw from the school district it helped form in 2008.
“It’s a huge process,” Selectman Paula Nelson said during a Jan. 6 public hearing, noting that she could not guarantee that withdrawing from RSU 1 is “the best idea. I don’t have that information. I cannot make an informed decision at all about what’s in the best interest of not only our town, but our students. … We just need the ability to research that.”
Resident Robert Brown, who started the withdrawal petition, said in October 2013 that the town certified 127 signatures, more than the required 102 – 10 percent of the number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.
Local control of costs, school choice and preservation of the town’s school are issues that triggered the withdrawal movement, Brown has said.
Negotiations now start between the town and RSU 1, which also includes Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg and Woolwich. A four-person withdrawal committee will be formed, composed of a West Bath selectman, one of the petitioners, a member of the public, and an RSU 1 board member.
As part of Tuesday’s referendum, West Bath also chose to allocate $40,000 for expenses related to the process.
The state education commissioner will have to approve a negotiated withdrawal plan, which would then go back to West Bath voters for a second vote. Should that vote be held before Jan. 1, 2015, half the number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election must participate; a simple majority would be required to confirm withdrawal, according to information provided by the town’s withdrawal committee.
If the vote is held after Jan. 1, 2015, there would be no minimum number of voters, although two-thirds of voters would have to support withdrawal.
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 in October 2012, 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.