Friday, March 7, 2014
WINDSOR — Residents will vote on Tuesday whether to start the process of withdrawing from Regional School Unit 12.
Windsor would be the fourth of the district's eight towns to take such a vote, joining Wiscasset, Westport Island and Palermo. The other towns in RSU 12 are Alna, Chelsea, Somerville and Whitefield.
As in other communities seeking to withdraw from their RSUs, the issues in Windsor largely comes down to cost and local control.
The referendum asks voters whether they want to form a committee to negotiate withdrawal from RSU 12 and appropriate $15,000 to fund the committee's work. It's the first step in a long process to separate from the school district.
A new cost-sharing formula that takes effect in RSU 12 in July will increase school taxes in Windsor drastically, as well as in Palermo and Somerville, while shifting the funding burden away from Westport Island and Wiscasset.
Palermo, Somerville and Windsor have paid less per student because they ran their schools efficiently before the RSU formed in 2009. The new cost-sharing formula, approved in a districtwide referendum last year, charges each town the same cost per student and could raise Windsor's obligation by more than 20 percent, which would be phased in over four years.
The passage of the new cost-sharing formula in a districtwide referendum is just one example of people from elsewhere making decisions that affect Windsor taxpayers and students, said Tom Squiers, who helped circulate the withdrawal petition.
"The RSU board members, their feeling is they represent the district as a whole, and not the town that they were elected from," Squiers said. "So I think we need to bring the management of the school closer to the people, instead of having a very large school board for eight different towns."
Windsor has three spots on the 21-member school board.
Squiers said he believes the RSU has added bureaucracy and created a bloated central office, contrary to the goals of school consolidation. He said Windsor may benefit from joining an alternative organizational structure with nearby towns.
Beth Choate, a parent of two students at Windsor School, said the central office is also disconnected from teachers and communities in a way that could harm education. She thinks the Windsor staff has not had enough input into curriculum changes.
Belonging to a large school district gives rise to other problems, Choate said.
She's concerned that Windsor's teachers, who she said were hired specifically for that school, could be replaced by teachers from elsewhere — who aren't as good a fit — in the case of districtwide layoffs. Windsor School also has taken in several students from other towns in RSU 12, swelling class sizes, she said.
Choate said cuts in teaching positions and the library budget in recent years aren't necessarily the RSU's fault, but she still thinks Windsor would do better on its own or in an AOS, in which each municipality maintains its own school budget while sharing a central office.
"Lack of state funding is causing a lot of the cuts right now, but I think Windsor as a community would cut in different places," Choate said.
Acting Superintendent Patricia Watts said efficiencies in the RSU allow the schools to do more with the money that they have, and they can share resources and expertise across the district.
"It's in its infancy," she said, "and I don't think there's really been enough time to see the advantages."
She said Windsor and the rest of RSU 12 both would lose if the town were to leave the district.
Last week, Wiscasset became the first town to have its withdrawal agreement approved by the RSU 12 school board. The agreement, which calls for Wiscasset to become a stand-alone school district in 2014, is subject to the education commissioner's approval, after which Wiscasset residents would vote on the proposal.
Westport Island probably will be the next town to complete a withdrawal agreement, followed by Palermo.
Susan McMillan — 621-5645