Ellsworth takes next step toward withdrawal from RSU 24

Posted July 06, 2012, at 9:39 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Would-be secessionists in Hancock County’s largest city have a tight timeline if they’re going to put their bid for withdrawal from Regional School Unit 24 on November’s ballot.

The Ellsworth withdrawal committee met Friday afternoon to elect its chairman and set an agenda and timetable for negotiating withdrawal from the RSU.

The city clerk must have the ballot language in hand 35 days before the Nov. 7 election. Before that, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Education has 60 days to review and rubber-stamp the city’s proposal. So newly elected Chairman Mark Rosborough gave the committee an Aug. 1 deadline to complete its herculean task.

“It’s extremely tight,” Rosborough said Monday. “We’re going to have to meet a couple times a week in order to get this thing done.”

Voters in Ellsworth, Hancock and Lamoine each approved a June 12 referendum to leave the RSU, which formed in 2009. Residents in each of the three towns have expressed dissatisfaction with the RSU and gathered signatures in order to put the question to a vote.

In Ellsworth, secessionists say they have seen increased costs for Ellsworth’s share of education since the RSU was created. Rosborough also said residents have “lost control of the education of our own Ellsworth students.”

On Monday, the committee — Rosborough, Ellsworth City Councilor John Moore, RSU 24 board member Michelle DeWitt and resident Ken Shea — requested a slew of documents from the RSU, items such as employee contracts, enrollment figures, inventories of real and personal property and other data.

It’s all part of the effort to negotiate what Ellsworth gets if withdrawal is approved. Presumably, that would include a return of control over Ellsworth High School and Hancock County Technical Center, which the city owned before the RSU was created. The city already owns its new elementary-middle school.

DeWitt said it might be hard to get a handle on some of the data the committee is seeking, especially personal property that doesn’t really stay at any one school.

“For example, lawnmowers are shuffled from school to school,” she said. “So a lawnmower in Ellsworth might not be ‘Ellsworth’s lawnmower.’”

The three towns seeking withdrawal are expected to band together to form an Alternative Organizational Structure, such as the one on Mount Desert Island, but that’s not a foregone conclusion; it’s still possible that Ellsworth goes it alone.

“We’ve had informal meetings with the other towns, but nothing’s set yet,” Rosborough said.

What happens in Ellsworth, Hancock and Lamoine will undoubtedly affect students and their parents in the rest of RSU 24. If the three withdrawal bids are successful, students in the remaining RSU 24 municipalities — Eastbrook, Franklin, Gouldsboro, Mariaville, Sorrento, Steuben, Sullivan, Waltham and Winter Harbor — could end up paying tuition to send their students to Sumner High School in Sullivan or to EHS.

Hancock’s withdrawal committee will convene Monday. Lamoine will follow suit Tuesday night.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter @riocarmine.

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