KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — Discussion between the Board of Selectmen and area residents at Thursday’s Regional School Unit 21 cost-sharing forum switched gears from complaints of imbalance among the district’s three towns to a discussion of what a withdrawal process would entail.
Although the public forum had low attendance because of that day’s snowstorm, it didn’t stop those who participated from expressing their dissatisfaction with the RSU’s arrangement of cost distribution among Kennebunkport, Kennebunk and Arundel.
“Truthfully, we’re going to be looking into getting out of the system, too,” said selectmen Vice Chairwoman Sheila Matthews-Bull at the meeting in the Village Fire Station.
Matthews-Bull’s comment was in relation to Arundel residents submitting a petition last week, which contained 380 signatures, to withdraw their town from the district.
According to Matthews-Bull, the cost-sharing agreement isn’t fair because Kennebunkport has fewer teens at the more than 700-student Kennebunk High School than Kennebunk, but still has to pay more.
Kennebunkport pays $13,500 per KHS student, while Kennebunk pays $11,500 per student, Matthews-Bull said. The current cost-sharing formula is based 60 percent on property values and 40 percent on pupil count.
A referendum vote that failed in May of last year would have changed the equation to be based 100 percent on property values.
The RSU now is seeking volunteers for a nine-member committee to discuss cost-sharing, with Kennebunk already nominating three people. The board will consist of two residents-at-large and one school board member from each town.
“Opening cost sharing is not making our board popular with anybody,” said RSU board Chairman Norman Archer of Kennebunkport, who acted as a representative of the school board for the forum.
If the town decided to remove itself from the RSU, the process would be quite lengthy. It would need to submit a petition signed by residents to the Department of Education stating they wanted to withdraw, form a committee of four to five people appointed by selectmen to draw up a plan of how the town’s students would be educated afterward, and if the state accepted their application, hold a vote requiring a two-thirds margin to succeed, according to Town Manager Larry Mead.
While Archer said he thought it unlikely the Department of Education would allow the withdrawal, Mead affirmed that as long as the town met the state’s measures, it could be done.
“I don’t see a real resolution to this,” said Arundel resident Jon Renell, adding the only way he could see the district’s cost-sharing problem solved would be if the three towns became one.
The formation of a committee comes as the RSU 21 facilities committee plans to renovate multiple schools.
The committee’s $51.4 million master facilities plan, if passed in November, will issue a bond to pay for projects including $43.5 million in modifications to Kennebunk High School, $3.7 million in changes to Mildred L. Day School in Arundel and $4.2 million in renovations to Kennebunkport Consolidated School.
Kennebunkport has made sure over the years that it keeps spending as little as possible, Matthews-Bull said, and to force such costs on the town is unfair.
“I don’t think we should be penalized for being frugal,” she said.
The public forum likely will be continued at the Board of Selectmen’s Jan. 26 meeting, according to Matthews-Bull, because of the snowstorm.