Newry debates SAD 44 funding formula question wording

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NEWRY — At last Thursday’s Newry Withdrawal Committee meeting, members discussed the difference in wording between what the SAD 44 School Board voted for on Feb. 12 for the Nov. 6 district cost-sharing formula referendum and what the NWC approved on Dec. 19, 2017.

The approved SAD 44 cost-sharing formula change will only go into effect if Newry residents vote to terminate the town’s current withdrawal process. NWC member Gary Drown was not pleased with the wording on the ballot.

“We agreed to recommend that the town vote to stop the withdrawal process, and this new wording is not recommending it – it’s demanding that the withdrawal process stop,” Drown said, referring to the wording on the Nov. 6 ballot. “To me that’s a legal right that the voters of the town have, and for us to recommend people giving up their legal right it doesn’t sit well with me at all.”

“The refunding formula won’t start until the town votes to stop the withdrawal process so it is a demand,” Drown added.

The wording on the ballot was: Do you favor changing the method of sharing costs among the towns in Maine School Administrative District 44 from the current method that bases both the required local and additional local funds on 100 percent fiscal capacity (valuation) of the town’s, to a method that bases both the required local and additional local funds on a combination of 85 percent fiscal capacity (valuation) and 15 percent pupil count, to be implemented (phased-in) over nine years and thereafter as set forth below, with the implementation of these cost share changes subject to the Town of Newry voters terminating the Towns withdrawal proceedings, such that “Year 1” of the cost sharing amendment would be the fiscal year immediately following that approving vote in Newry.

The wording was crafted by SAD 44’s attorney, Bill Stockmeyer.

Chair of the NWC Jim Sysko said he asked the NWC attorney Dan Stockford if the change in wording would be a “deal breaker.”

“My conclusion was, from a legal perspective, the language of the referendum question that went to vote was not exactly consistent with the statute,” Stockford said. “There’s no provision in the statute for attaching conditions to the new cost-sharing formula.”

Stockford said he thought if a Maine court viewed the question, that they would most-likely uphold it even the wording is not exactly the same.

Drown said he sees it as bribery. He said he reviewed videos from a refunding formula informational meeting in early November of 2017 saying that people then requested if there could be a guarantee on the ballot, but member Gary Wight said that nothing could be guaranteed.

“This time we do have a guarantee, we’ve got a guarantee that this won’t go into effect unless the town of Newry votes to stop the withdrawal process – sounds like bribery to me,” Drown said.

Newry selectmen Jim Largess looked at it differently.

“It was a political compromise, SAD 44 was treated differently, Newry was taking the brunt of it, this corrects that,” Largess said.

Town Administrator Amy Bernard asked if anyone else on the NWC felt similar to the way Drown did, and if they did not, suggested that the committee should “move on.”

Member Bonnie Largess made the motion to not continue to discuss the wording that Drown had brought up.

Wight seconded her motion.

Drown asked if he could amend the motion.

Jim Sysko emphasized that the vote is only on stopping the current withdrawal process, and if Newry wanted to start a new one in the future, they could.

Drown wondered how long it would be until Newry could begin another withdrawal process.

“If the town votes to terminate the current withdrawal process, I believe that there would be a two-year hiatus,” Stockford said.

“I don’t think we should just say ‘let’s stop the withdrawal process’ and end it at that and let people go and vote,” Drown said. “I think we need a lot of information for the voters, we are after all representing the voters, not our own interests.”

Stockmeyer said he thought the wording on the ballot was clear that if the formula passed, Newry would vote to terminate the process.

Bernard said that according to Robert’s Rules that the only person who can amend a motion that has already been made is the initiator of that motion, or that the initiator has to agree to that amendment.

Bonnie Largess opted not to end her motion.  It passed 3-1, with Gary Wight, Bonnie Largess and Sysko in favor and Drown opposed.

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Sysko talked about recommending to the town that they stop the NWC. He noted that Stockford said it should be a referendum and that the town could either hold a special town meeting, or attach the referendum to its annual town meeting.

Stockford added that there should be a public hearing prior to the referendum.

Sysko also announced his resignation from chair of the NWC.

Stockford said that selectmen would not have to fill the vacancy if the committee does not intend to do any more business prior to the vote.

Members of the NWC and residents of Newry thanked Sysko for his work.

“I believe you’ve opened a lot of eyes to the people of Newry and the other towns,” resident Bob Lowell said. “If Newry decides to stop the process, then we’ve got a lot more than we ever expected.”

“You’ve leveled the playing field, which is what people have been asking for,” Jim Largess said.

“You’re a true fighter of freedom, and I appreciate your efforts, sincerely,” Drown said.

swheeler@bethelcitizen.com

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