STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — Stockton Springs residents overwhelmingly approved beginning the process to break away from a regional school district that the town shares with seven other communities.
At the polls on Tuesday, residents voted 246-28 to move forward with plans to withdraw from Regional School Unit 20.
All eight municipalities within RSU 20, based in Belfast, are at various points in the withdrawal process. Besides Stockton Springs, those communities include Belfast, Searsport, Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont and Swanville. Belfast voted in February to spend $25,000 to put together a report on the educational and financial impacts of leaving RSU 20.
Stockton Springs Town Manager Rich Couch said Wednesday that the 90 percent support for launching the withdrawal process shows residents are concerned with the current arrangement. He said that while costs cause some of the concerns, the main issue is the lack of control the town has over the education for its students.
The RSU 20 board closed the town’s elementary school, he noted. Students who live in Stockton Springs now attend Searsport Elementary School.
The town’s two school board representatives have also been told that their votes matter little because they are outnumbered on the 17-member regional board, the town manager said.
The town has set aside $20,000 for developing a withdrawal plan and has contacted the Bangor law firm of Rudman Winchell to help formulate a plan for leaving RSU 20. A withdrawal committee will be formed to develop that plan and formal notifications will be made to the Maine Department of Education and RSU 20, he said.
While a town may vote to pursue withdrawal, that passage of that does not legally bind the withdrawal committee to reach a withdrawal agreement and ultimately send it to a final public vote. More votes in Stockton Springs will be required before a withdrawal agreement can be presented to the Maine Department of Education.
Since the state approved a law in 2007 to encourage the consolidation of school districts, nine municipalities have withdrawn from districts and five other communities will join the list as of July 1.