RICHMOND — A group of Richmond residents has indicated that they want to withdraw from Regional School Unit 2.

At Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Town Manager Adam Garland notified Richmond elected officials that a petition, with 164 valid signatures, had been submitted.

The move is just the first step of 22 that the state Department of Education has outlined for municipalities to exit the school districts to which they belong.

The next is a townwide secret ballot vote at a special election on whether to officially start the withdrawal process. The article must identify a dollar amount to be raised to support legal and other costs related to the withdrawal, and it must be drafted to follow the format outlined by the state.

“This vote doesn’t mean anything other than do people want to see if they want to move forward,” Garland said Tuesday, noting that a public hearing must take place at least 10 days before the vote takes place.

As town manager, Garland said he recommended having that vote March 2, the date of the statewide primary, because that has the potential to draw out the most voters. Selectmen may decide to conduct the vote at a different time.

They are expected to discuss it at their next meeting, Dec. 2, when they will talk about what amount of money to appropriate and from where the money will come.

In 2007, the Maine State Legislature enacted the school district reorganization law, following task force recommendations. The policy was intended to improve educational opportunities for Maine students and promote equity, while reducing the cost of providing education and increasing efficiency in delivering education to the state’s students. Large districts, high-performing districts and isolated school districts were exempt from the law.

RSU 2, formed in 2009, encompasses Richmond, Monmouth, Dresden, Hallowell and Farmingdale.

Two years later, a group of Monmouth residents started researching whether leaving the newly formed school district would be feasible. When the matter came to a vote in June 2013, the majority of Monmouth voters favored leaving the district, but withdrawal supporters failed to reach the 60% that state law required to allow them to forego a two-year waiting period and start withdrawing immediately.

Across the region, other towns have considered leaving their school districts.

In 2018, Chelsea residents started the process of withdrawing from Regional School Unit 12, but voters rejected the move at the ballot box in November 2018 by a margin of 116 votes.

The question got onto the ballot via a petition drive, completed in September 2018, that gathered 123 verified signatures — the number required for the warrant article to appear on the ballot.

At that time, Chelsea Selectman Michael Pushard said it was the selectmen’s job to bring such questions to voters for their consideration.

Part of the concern in Chelsea has been the size of the school district’s assessment on the local property tax bill. Chelsea elected officials said they have made town spending decisions based on expected school district expenditures and have delayed or set aside projects to keep the property tax rate down.

Chelsea was only the latest town to consider withdrawing. Wiscasset withdrew from the Sheepscot Valley school district on July 1, 2014. Since then, voters in Palermo and Windsor have also considered and rejected leaving the district.

To get the process started in Richmond, organizers needed to collect verified signatures from 10% of the town’s voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election. Town Clerk Sharon Woodward said that number was 164, and that threshold was reached, but not all people who signed the petition were registered to vote in Richmond.

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