BELFAST, Maine — Voters in five communities this week chose a board of directors to lead the brand-new school district, RSU 71.
The nine-member board will hold its first organizational meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, at the Troy Howard Middle School Library. The newly elected officials from Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont and Swanville will come together to start taking care of all the business that must get done before July 1, the date when the new district must be fully-operating and independent.
“I’m sure the new board will be hiring an interim superintendent. It’s critical to get somebody on board immediately, because there’s a lot of work to be done,” Larry Theye of Belfast, the interim secretary for RSU 71, said Thursday.
The district was formed after voters on Election Day 2014 approved withdrawing from RSU 20. That district had been comprised of the RSU 71 communities, Stockton Springs and Searsport — which will remain RSU 20 — and Northport, which has formed its own school district.
The new RSU 71 board members are: David Crabiel, Allison Goscinski, Caitlin Hills, Charlie Grey and Ben Potter of Belfast; Laura Newsom of Belmont; Bernadette Dutra of Morrill; Evelyn deFrees of Searsmont and Frederic Black of Swanville.
Hills, who is one of Belfast’s representatives on the current RSU 20 board, said she is pleased with the election results.
“It’s very exciting. We have so many new faces, new energy, new perspectives,” she said. “I think there’s a good diversity amongst the new board members. I think we’re going to get a lot of good ideas.”
She hopes the full board will be able to visit each of the five elementary schools, Troy Howard Middle School and Belfast Area High School as a group. “So we can be on the same page about the strengths of our schools and the areas that need improvements,” Hills explained.
She will continue to serve on the current RSU 20 board until the school systems finally split at the end of June, and said she’s glad that the new RSU 71 board has only nine members.
“That’s a very manageable number,” Hills said, adding that the current RSU 20 board has 17 directors. “On the RSU 20 board, there’s a lot of positive, well-meaning people. But it just got to the point where it was so divisive, we couldn’t have that many conversations. There was a lot of anger and distrust. It goes back a long way. I think because of the size of the board, we were just unable to get past that. I certainly wish the new RSU 20 the best of luck.”
Speaking of the new RSU 20, the directors from Stockton Springs and Searsport will have their own board meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 20, at the Searsport District High School cafeteria. The new board members are scheduled to elect officers and discuss the organizational structure for the central office and schools.
Board meetings for the new RSU 20, the old RSU 20 and the new RSU 71 all will be held regularly from now on, according to RSU 20 administrative assistant Rhoda Sutfin. And if you’re finding hard to keep track of all this management, you’re not alone.
Sutfin said she used to have only one book for taking minutes of meetings and now she has three.
“It’s really just a matter of organization,” she said, “so that you get things in the right place and you’re able to find what you’re looking for at a moment’s notice. Rather than saying, ‘I’ll have to get back to you.’
“We’re going to get through it.”