WEST BATH

West Bath’s withdrawal agreement was unanimously approved by the Regional School Unit 1 Board of Directors at its regular school board meeting Monday, and now awaits state approval.

The controversial issue of allowing school choice for elementary students has been tabled to be resolved outside of the withdrawal process, according to a West Bath official.

The preliminary agreement will be sent to the Department of Education for approval from Commissioner James Rier, which completes step eight in a 22-statutory step withdrawal process.

“This is just a piece of paper at this point,” said West Bath Selectman Peter Oceretko, who serves on the RSU 1 Withdrawal Committee. “We’re waiting now for conditional approval or recommended changes from the commissioner.”

According to the withdrawal statute, the commissioner has 60 days from the receipt of a withdrawal agreement signed by the withdrawing party and school unit to either approve the agreement or recommend changes. If approval is given, the commissioner sets the date of a public hearing, to be conducted by the chairperson of the school unit’s board of directors.

The withdrawal agreement assumes a tentative withdrawal date of June 30, 2015. For the first school year following a withdrawal, all students are permitted to attend the school they would have attended had a withdrawal not taken place.

“Following the first year after withdrawal,” beginning July 2016, the agreement states, “all West Bath students may choose to attend a middle or secondary school that suits their educational goals or desires at which they are accepted.”

RSU 1 had agreed to have Bath Middle School and Morse High School serve as the schools of guaranteed acceptance for all West Bath middle and high school students for a period of 10 years following withdrawal.

The debate over school choice for elementary students, however, will continue at a school board level, said Oceretko.

West Bath has a K-5 school, the West Bath School, and so a school or guaranteed acceptance is not required for students at those levels, but the agreement states that RSU 1 will “accept West Bath K-8 students as tuition students” for a 10-year period following withdrawal.

Should a withdrawal occur, said Oceretko, the agreement does not allow for RSU 1 to pay tuition to a new West Bath school district for RSU 1 students to attend the West Bath School.

“That was a big bone of contention,” said Oceretko, noting that a draft agreement had allowed for RSU 1 students to tuition into a West Bath school unit for a 10-year period following withdrawal, but that had been removed at RSU 1’s request.

“It’s an issue that parents in the RSU and West Bath are very interested in,” said Oceretko, “and many of them want to see if we can continue it.”

Oceretco estimated that the decision would affect approximately 20-25 RSU 1 students, beginning the year following a withdrawal.

“That gives us about a year and a half from now to try to cobble together some sort of resolution,” said Oceretko. “Based on the meeting (Monday) night, I think the (RSU 1) board is going to be committed to finding a resolution.”

“One of the most concerning pieces is the school choice students that attend West Bath School right now,” said RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel. “We’ll be having a meeting soon with all parents — parents of students that live in West Bath and other RSU 1 parents — so we can discuss this with them.”

Manuel noted that the decision not to tuition RSU 1 elementary students into the West Bath School was a “financial decision” made by the RSU 1 Working Group, which negotiated terms of the withdrawal agreement with the West Bath Withdrawal Committee.

“Just because both sides have signed (the agreement) doesn’t mean there isn’t time to listen and reconsider certain things,” said Manuel. “We will have public hearings; that’s part of the process for a reason.”

The tuition amount agreed to for middle and high school students is the maximum allowable tuition rate as set by the state, said Oceretko. These rates are not standardized but are provided for each school unit and take into account debt service for renovations and maintenance specific to that system.

For RSU 1, the current actual per student cost for middle and high school students is $8,523, and the maximum allowable tuition is $8,557, according to the DOE.

By comparison, the actual per student cost for Brunswick is $10,277 and the maximum tuition is $9,209. For MSAD 75, the actual per student cost is $8,671 and the maximum tuition is $8,706.

West Bath agreed to pay tuition for the actual number of West Bath students in grades 6 to 12 who are attending RSU 1 schools, or for 75 percent of the total number of West Bath students in those grades attending public schools, whichever is greater.

In a June meeting, the RSU 1 Working Group responded to the draft agreement, which set no limit, requesting an 80 percent guaranteed minimum threshold of tuition.

Without that threshold, the response stated, RSU 1 will have to “make available adequate facilities and teaching staff to accommodate all of West Bath’s students,” without any guarantee of tuition revenue.

In addition to the state tuition, for a 10-year period following withdrawal, RSU 1 maychargea5percentdebt service factor for “any newly incurred capital outlay and debt service,” the agreement states.

“This takes into consideration the likely construction of a new high school at some point in the future,” said Oceretko. “It would be 5 percent of the total tuition of eligible students, but at the moment nobody is affected by that.”

After withdrawal, West Bath would not be liable for payments on debt service on outstanding bonds and notes for the 2001 Bath Middle School renovation project, the 2006 Vocational and Morse High School addition and renovation loan, the 2008 Bath System Wide renovation project and the Woolwich Central School project.

A debt service factor for these would be figured into the state tuition rate for West Bath students attending RSU 1 schools.

West Bath will be responsible for any portion of the $5.2 million School Improvement Bond Anticipation Note, authorized by voters November 2013, “that is allocable to improvements at the West Bath School made as of June 30, 2015,” the agreement states.

For a withdrawal to occur by June 30, 2015, West Bath must hold a special election before Jan. 31, 2015. Additionally, a majority of voters must vote in favor of withdrawal, and at least 50 percent of voters who participate in the November gubertatorial election will have to participate in the withdrawal referendum for a withdrawal vote to be considered valid.

The withdrawal agreement is available on the RSU 1 website at www.rsu1.org/content_ page 2.aspx?cid=28. Copies of the agreement are also available at the West Bath town hall, located at 219 Fosters Point Road.

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ACCORDING TO THE withdrawal statute, the state education commissioner has 60 days from the receipt of a withdrawal agreement to either approve the agreement or recommend changes.

THE WITHDRAWAL agreement assumes a tentative withdrawal date of June 30, 2015.



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