If a random sample of citizens across the district is any indication, the town’s January vote to withdraw from Regional School Unit 1 will be controversial.

West Bath residents secured enough signatures to move the withdrawal effort forward when activist Robert Brown submitted a petition in October bearing 127 signatures. He needed 102 valid signatures — 10 percent of the number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

“I think that withdrawing from the RSU 1 is a mistake,” said Bath native and Morse High School graduate Dan Stanton. “I feel that the schools of the area should all be working under the same district and becoming your own entity is a disadvantage to the individual school and community as a whole.”

Stanton said all of his children went to school in the RSU 1 district and that his brother now teaches at Morse High School. “I think West Bath is upset over past money owed to them and those details should be worked out in a more effective way,” he said.

He was referring to West Bath’s lawsuit against RSU 1, in which the town hopes to recover $1.9 million it believes it overpaid the district in the first four years RSU 1 existed. The lawsuit claims West Bath should have been assessed a total of $8.2 million over the course of four years but instead paid $10.1 million.

Some across the district seemed ambivalent about West Bath’s move while others seemed sympathetic.

“My children are all grown up and I don’t know much about the details,” said Janette Thibeault, of Bath. “But I do think that if there is an injustice regarding money and funding, something should be done about it.”

Woolwich resident Kate Elmes said it appeared to her that West Bath was getting the short end of the stick.

“They are not getting what they are supposed to and their school is in need of desperate repairs,” Elmes said. “I think that there should maybe be more control of the school, community and the way things are run.”

Drew Deffenbaugh, of Bath, said, “If the folks of West Bath think that this is the right thing to do and they can vote in favor, then I support that.”

He added: “I think that there must be a better sense of everyone working together toward a common goal, in the best interest of everyone.”

Bath Natural Food Market owner Mark Schoninger agreed. “I really wish that the different communities, schools and groups would work together to see the long term here,” he said.

“I am not convinced that West Bath has really thought this through,” Schoninger said, “and I am concerned that there are underlying repercussions that they will not be faced with until it may be too late. In addition, I feel that the state has dropped the ball with guiding the districts on how to delegate the newly mandated consolidations.”

Cal Stilphen, of Bath, said that he has concerns and that he could see both sides of the issue. “I don’t blame West Bath for the decision,” he said, “and feel that costsharing is not working out the way it was proposed to.”

“I can see how some would feel that the state has not done enough to assist the administration in solving these issues,” said Stilphen, who has grandchildren who attend Bath and West Bath schools said. “I feel the same.”

If residents approve the referendum, negotiations would start between the town and RSU 1, which also includes Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg and Woolwich.

AMY LILLY is a Times Record correspondent who lives in West Bath.

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