December 5, 2012

Palermo residents vote to withdraw from RSU 12

By Susan McMillan
Staff Writer

PALERMO -- In a vote at a special town meeting Wednesday, Palermo became the third town in Regional School Unit 12 to seek withdrawal from the RSU.

In a gathering of about 80 residents, only a handful voted against the petition. Palermo will form a committee to negotiate a withdrawal from the RSU and give the committee up to $15,000 to spend.

Residents who spoke in favor of the petition said they never liked the idea of giving up local control but felt coerced into joining an RSU because of financial penalties that have since been eliminated.

Several residents also said they are worried about a substantial increase in taxes that will result from a new cost-sharing plan approved in an RSU-wide referendum in November.

"Palermo school used to be a cost-efficient, high-achieving school with a lot of local control," one woman said. "Now it feels like we are not doing as well on tests scores, and we are being asked to take on more of a financial burden."

RSU 12 school board member Don Barrett said being in an RSU has benefits, but decision-making in RSU 12 is weighted toward wealthier towns in the southern part of the district that are culturally and socioeconomically different from Palermo.

Palermo has two representatives on RSU 12's 21-member board.

Wiscasset and Westport island voted in June to form withdrawal committees. RSU 12 also includes Alna, Chelsea, Somerville, Whitefield and Windsor.

RSU 12 board Chairwoman Hilary Holm, who represents Whitefield, urged Palermo residents not to rush into the withdrawal process without exploring what it would cost to educate the town's children and who among the town's neighbors could be partners in an alternative organizational structure.

Holm acknowledged that the new cost-sharing plan will cost Palermo more, but she said the school board thought it was the fairest way to split costs because it charges every town the same amount per pupil.

Palermo residents who objected said they thought it would be more fair to charge towns based on what it costs to educate their students.

The committee established by Wednesday's vote will negotiate with the RSU to create a plan for returning Palermo's assets -- such as the school building and buses -- and providing for the education of its students.

That plan then will go to referendum in Palermo for a binding vote. The process could take a year or more.

Also at Wednesday's special town meeting, residents approved the purchase of a new road grader, using $86,000 from the town's grader fund and $64,200 from surplus.

Susan McMillan -- 621-5645


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