RAYMOND — Town voters are one step closer to deciding whether to formally initiate the school withdrawal process to leave RSU 14.
The Raymond Selectboard held a public hearing Tuesday, July 31, to receive public input on the withdrawal referendum question, which voters will decide at an Aug. 14 special town meeting.
“The way the whole withdrawal system works, you have to take the incremental steps,” said Selectboard member Rolf Olsen. “The first step is to say, yes we want to start investigating.”
The referendum question will ask voters if they “favor filing a petition for withdrawal with the Board of Education, authorizing the withdrawal committee to expend $50,000 over two years and authorizing the Select Board to issue notes in the name of the Town of Raymond or otherwise pledge the credit of the Town of Raymond in an amount not to exceed $50,000 over 2 years for this purpose?”
The 22-step withdrawal process, as outlined in state statute, involves multiple public hearings, the creation of a withdrawal committee and development of a withdrawal agreement, and sign-off from the Maine Department of Education, among other steps.
This is the second withdrawal effort in Raymond within the last several years. Raymond Selectboard Chairwoman Teresa Sadak helped lead a similar effort that started in 2014 and ended in 2015 with Raymond residents voting 376-136 to halt the withdrawal process.
Sadak has played a similar role in this withdrawal push, collecting more than 350 signatures for a petition she then brought before the Selectboard. The group then voted 5-0 June 19 to set the date for Tuesday’s public hearing and the Aug. 14 special town meeting.
Chief among Sadak’s concerns are district costs and a belief that RSU 14 is not living up to a cost-sharing agreement that makes each town responsible for major capital costs at school facilities within that town. She says the district and school board have resisted attempts from Raymond municipal officials to discuss their concerns.
Of particular concern to Sadak and others is the shared vehicle maintenance facility currently under construction Windham, in which the school district would lease space for its buses.
School district officials have pointed to state statute, which specifically excludes the lease-purchase of a bus garage and maintenance facility from the definition of major capital costs.
District Superintendent Sanford Prince said in an email Tuesday that RSU 14 and the town of Windham have not yet finalized a lease agreement.
Tuesday night’s public hearing began with a presentation from Sadak, which outlined many of the arguments for withdrawal she made when collecting the petition signatures and presenting the petition to the rest of the Selectboard.
Sadak said this second effort grew out of frustrations regarding a “lack of say, lack of control” and “needless spending in Windham.”
Lawyer Dan Stockford of Lewiston-based firm Brann & Isaacson then gave an overview of the withdrawal process. Stockford said he has worked with more than 20 municipalities going through the process. He and Mark Eastman, a former school superintendent turned consultant, worked on the ultimately successful withdrawal effort in the town of Sebago, which finalized its departure from SAD 61 earlier this summer.
Stockford said that the current Raymond effort appears to be driven by a “desire to control your own destiny” and added that the entire withdrawal process can often take between six months and a year.
After Stockford’s presentation, the meeting was opened up to public comments and questions.
Frank McDermott, a former principal and superintendent in the Raymond School district before the town voted in 2008 to join with Windham and form RSU 14, signed Sadak’s withdrawal petition but pushed the Selectboard Tuesday night to provide more information about what Raymond going on its own would look like.
“I want to see what a good school system will look like in Raymond,” McDermott said. “I’m not worried about counting pennies to do it, and I’m afraid that that’s what it’s going to end up being.”
Selectboard member Marshall Bullock responded to McDermott.
“I would be the first to admit that it may cost us some money in the short run to get a school up and running in the way that we want,” Bullock said. “But I think in the long run, we’re going to get an education, we’re going to get a better school system, and we’re going to have better morale in our school teachers.”
Resident Grace Leavitt, a longtime Spanish teacher in the Greely school system who recently became president of the Maine Education Association, spoke in opposition to withdrawal.
“I for one have been very glad that our students have a school to go to,” she said in reference to Raymond students attending Windham High School. “This is just not worth it to me – not worth it to our kids.”
No representatives from the RSU 14 school district spoke during the public hearing, though Raymond’s three School Board members were in attendance.
Sadak has said repeatedly that she doesn’t think School Board members have done their due diligence related to the shared vehicle maintenance facility.
School Board Member Janis Cummings of Raymond said after the meeting that she felt she and other member “did do our due diligence” in reviewing the project and said she had never received any direct communication from Raymond Selectboard members looking to discuss the facility.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Members of the Raymond Selectboard listen as lawyer Dan Stockford, right, gives an overview of the school withdrawal process.