Letter to Newry residents on withdrawal process

Following is a letter from Newry Withdrawal Committee Chairman Jim Sysko that was sent to Newry residents last week, updating the withdrawal process. (For more context, see the July 2 and July 9 Bethel Citizen.)

1 July 2015

Dear Newry Citizens:

I write to update you on the work of the Newry School Withdrawal Committee. Since it was formed in fall 2014 under state legislation and Department of Education regulations, the committee has met 11 times. Minutes and agendas of these are available on the “Withdrawal Committee” link on the town homepage (www.newrymaine.org). Here I want to describe briefly our proposals, the negotiating process, and the current status of the work.

Proposed agreement. Withdrawal agreements have to cover a variety of matters– especially finances–as required by state rules. To satisfy the financial requirements, we proposed an agreement that 1) provides for a lengthy period of Newry financial support for SAD 44 through a Stabilization Fund to ease the transition, and 2) offers a Targeted Grants program to put additional resources into SAD 44 to improve education. In our most recent proposal, the timing and amount of funding make possible a net increase in revenues to SAD 44. We believe, and our educational consultant confirms, that our offer is unprecedented in withdrawal agreements in the state of Maine in its innovative terms and financial generosity. We have thought long and hard about how to achieve withdrawal from SAD 44 while at the same time not merely not harming but in fact helping the district to improve education for all students.

Negotiation process. We submitted a proposed withdrawal agreement to SAD 44 on 8 January and received a counterproposal seven weeks later, on 26 February. The committee’s negotiating team met with SAD 44’s negotiating team on 4 March. No progress was made at that meeting, and on 23 April we submitted a second, revised proposal. On 7 May SAD 44 requested clarification of certain aspects of that proposal, and these were submitted on 1 June, at which time we requested a face-to-face meeting to discuss the new proposal and start a negotiation process to reach an agreement. We were told that SAD 44’s response would be sent for review by our negotiating team on 26 June, but no response was received. We then again requested a proposal from SAD 44 and confirmation of a negotiating meeting on 13 July. At this time we do not know if SAD 44 will in fact submit a counterproposal and begin serious face-to-face negotiations.

Current status. We have worked hard and with good will toward our negotiating partners to develop an attractive agreement that will benefit both Newry and SAD 44. We are frustrated by unnecessary delays, lack of response, and a public effort by SAD 44 to impugn our motives and circulate misleading information. Our frustration is not personal; when we agreed to serve we agreed to devote as much time, energy, and thought as needed to reach a good outcome. Rather, our frustration is on behalf of the citizens of Newry who voted to pursue withdrawal. Because of the tactics of the SAD 44 negotiating team, we are unable to report any substantive progress and are now at a point where withdrawal, if it occurs, has been delayed until June of 2017 at the earliest. We have urged SAD 44 to begin to negotiate in good faith and in a timely fashion that reflects the seriousness of the matter and respects the wishes of Newry citizens.

Members of the committee (names and contact information are below) welcome your questions and suggestions, and we remind you that all of our meetings are open to the public and that adequate time at these is always made available for citizen comments.

In closing, I want to reiterate that from the beginning of this process we have said that our goal is not to save money but to improve education and to increase the influence citizens have on how their tax dollars are spent. Contrary to what SAD 44 has claimed, this is not about money; this is about the education of all students in the district.

Jim Sysko

Chair, Newry Withdrawal Committee

Committee members

Jim Sysko, Chair

syskoj@gouldacademy.org

890-8728

William Andrews

wda@megalink.net

824-2673

Bonnie Largess

blargess@yahoo.com

824-3642

Gary Wight

gwight@hotmail.com

824-2497