SAD 44 decision not to negotiate new formula clarified

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Ed. note: The following letter from SAD 44 Woodstock Director Marcel Polak was presented at the Feb. 9 School Board meeting, in order to clarify the board’s decision last month to take no action on establishing a committee to negotiate a new cost-sharing formula for SAD 44 towns that might entice Newry to remain in the district. For the discussion on the issue at the meeting, see story in the Bethel Citizen print or e-edition. 

I wanted to further explain why the SAD 44 Newry Withdrawal Committee recommended “no action” on setting up the funding formula change committee.

There were many reasons for this recommendation. It’s important to understand that the committee was not saying no – merely that we did not think it beneficial at this time to establish a committee. We will continue researching this issue.

The reasons for our “no action at this time” recommendation were based on the Maine law – 20-A M.R.S.A. 1301 (3) (http://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/20-A/title20-Asec1301.htm) and our attorneys’ counsel on the legal outcomes of two competing committees and votes.

The above law allows the establishment of a committee on request of a written petition from 10% of the voters in the last gubernatorial election or with the majority approval of the school board.

This committee would represent Greenwood, Woodstock, Bethel, and Newry and consist of 3 representatives from each town: two at large and one school director from that town.

SAD 44 would then hire a facilitator and the committee would work together to change the cost sharing method. The new formula would then have to be approved by a majority of the committee (7 or more out of the 12 of the representatives.) This committee-approved proposal would then be submitted to all four-town voters. The change in the funding formula becomes effective, if a majority of the four-town voters approve the proposal. There are some additional relatively minor details of the law that I have not included in this letter.

If a majority of the four-town voters approve a new funding formula established by this four-town committee, the Newry withdrawal vote still continues. If Newry voters approve withdrawal, the newly approved funding vote is over ruled and is irrevelevant. Newry will then legally withdraw from SAD 44.

This above process would be time consuming, add additional cost to the district voters (SAD 44 would have to pay for a facilitator and mediator in case the majority of municipal representatives are not able to agree on new formula) and still not guarantee a new funding formula.

We asked our attorneys to confirm this outcome. They told us that there was another scenario to consider.

If the funding change committee was formed and an agreement on a new funding formula was approved to go to the voters of the towns, there could be language included that stated this change would occur as long as Newry terminated their withdrawal efforts. A second article, considered only by Newry voters would ask them to approve terminating the withdrawal process if the new formula was approved. If that all happened, it could be possible to end the withdrawal effort while compromising on a new funding formula.

In the end though, even if the majority of the voters agreed to the new formula, unless Newry also approved the second ballot question, which would terminate the withdrawal effort, the withdrawal process would still need to continue and the result of that vote would over rule any results of the decision around a new funding formula. Our attorneys stated that none of this could happen without the support of the selectmen in Newry and an agreement between that group and the school board regarding the language to be used on the referendum article.

If all of this sounds complicated to you, it is. This has never happened in Maine.

The SAD 44 Newry Withdrawal Committee concluded that based on these current circumstances that this was not an effective way to either collaboratively change the funding formula or to stop withdrawal.

Please let me know if you have any further questions.

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