ST. GEORGE, Maine — The Maine Department of Education has given conditional approval to St. George to break away from the Rockland-area school district.
The state education commissioner granted the approval on Aug. 6.
The next step is for Regional School Unit 13 to hold a public hearing on the proposed withdrawal. That hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18 at the McLain School in Rockland.
RSU 13 Superintendent John McDonald said that the terms of the proposed withdrawal will be explained to the public, which can ask questions about the matter.
After the hearing is held, the commissioner will decide whether to give final approval. The town also will hold a public hearing before the Nov. 4 election at which a townwide referendum to finalize the withdrawal will be held.
Town Manager John Falla said at that same election, he expects voters to be asked to approve a school administrative ordinance that will dictate how the municipal school system would be run. That plan is being developed, and he expects the Select Board to act on the proposed ordinance in late September.
If voters approve withdrawal on Nov. 4, the Select Board is prepared to hold a special board meeting on Nov. 5 to set a nomination paper timetable and to schedule a Dec. 2 election to pick school board members. The Select Board also would develop a transitional budget for the St. George school system at that meeting.
The town would begin its own school system on July 1.
St. George plans to operate its own kindergarten through eighth-grade school at the St. George School. Ninth through 12th graders would be tuitioned to other area high schools. The withdrawal agreement the town reached with RSU 13 calls for the district to accept St. George high school students.
St. George would pay the state tuition rate during the first year, but in subsequent years, the town would pay 110 percent of the state rate. If RSU 13 incurs debts for the high school, the district can impose up to 10 percent more on the tuition rate, under the withdrawal proposal.
The Five-Town Community School district also agreed to accept 15 to 25 St. George students to attend Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport. And RSU 40 has agreed to have St. George students attend Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro.
St. George has about 100 students enrolled in grades eight through 12.
For St. George, the impetus to withdraw was fueled largely by the RSU 13 board’s decision to move eighth-graders from the St. George School to the Oceanside High School West in neighboring Thomaston. Town residents also voiced concern in October 2012 about the impact of continuing budget cuts on education offered in the district.
St. George formed a withdrawal committee after residents gave their backing in a May 2013 vote.