The merits of examining whether to remain in Regional School Unit 18 will be discussed during Tuesday’s meeting of the Belgrade Board of Selectpersons.

Because that issue and others attracted a number of attendees last week, the 6:30 p.m. meeting will be held at the Center for All Seasons.

The debate over whether to form a committee to study withdrawal from RSU 18 – which includes Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney – is listed first on the board’s agenda.

It resulted from a previous board meeting and a proposal by Howard Holinger, chairman of the town’s Budget Committee, to look into the advantages of having Belgrade children continue to attend the regional school unit.

“We’re spending $17,000-plus per student to attend the RSU,” Holinger said Friday. “The RSU is spending $11,000 to educate the student.”

However, he said he did not intend for the discussion to focus only on withdrawal.

“I wanted a committee to be formed to investigate rationale for the expense that we’re spending on education in Belgrade,” he said. “One of the outcomes may be Belgrade may do far better by the students and the town by getting out of the RSU.”

He said he also wants to know if the funding formula can be restructured.

“The bottom line is, we’re spending in excess of $3 million a year more than what we’re getting for our students,” Holinger said. “I’m not advocating getting out of the RSU unless that’s the only alternative.”

Holinger raised the same issue in April when RSU 18 Superintendent Gary Smith presented a budget breakdown to the Belgrade selectmen.

“How is staying in the RSU 18 program that you’re running a good deal for Belgrade?” Holinger asked. Smith at the time said there was a procedure to follow should the town want to withdraw.

Since 2013, 25 municipalities have withdrawn from school districts around the state, some to form their own districts and others to join a neighboring district, according to the state Department of Education. The changes followed pushback against a 2007 law that encouraged school district consolidation as a way to reduce property taxes amid a declining student population. The law stipulated that districts could look into withdrawing three years after the districts were formed.

In Belgrade, Holinger said he calculated that the town pays about $17,600 for each of the 537 students it sends to the district’s schools.

“I am pro-education; I spent my entire professional career in education,” Holinger said. “I am not trying to bash RSU 18.”

He suggested that selectmen set up a temporary special committee to get input from all interested groups, including people from the school district administrative staff as well as school board members, to look into these questions: “Is it worth it? Can we do something different? What are our alternatives? Will RSU 18 consider the fact that it’s a very unfairly funded situation?”

Holinger said the funding formula results in a disproportionately high education cost to Belgrade, which has the highest property valuation of all five towns in the district.

Preliminary budget documents prepared earlier this year show how much each town was to contribute to the schools: Belgrade, almost $5.1 million; China, just over $3.3 million; Oakland, almost $4.2 million; Rome, almost $1.3 million; and Sidney, $3.1 million.

“Are we getting enough bang for our buck to make it worthwhile?” Holinger asked. “How do we know until we take an objective look at what the options are?”

Belgrade residents rejected the district’s two budget proposals for the 2015-2016 school year.

However, the vote totals from the other four towns were enough to ratify the $34.4 million budget proposal in June.

The school superintendent did not respond to an email inquiry sent Friday afternoon or to a phone message. However, Belgrade officials said Assistant Superintendent Carl Gartley indicated at an earlier selectmen’s meeting he would be willing to be part of the discussion.

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

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