Dixfield school withdrawal panel reconsiders effort

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DIXFIELD — The Dixfield Withdrawal Committee is considering halting the process to leave RSU 10 by possibly negotiating to keep Dirigo High School open for years to come.

The issue came up at the committee’s second meeting Wednesday night.

A major reason for establishing the Withdrawal Committee was a suggestion by RSU 10 Superintendent Tom Ward last spring to look into combining Dirigo High School and Mountain Valley High School in Rumford to save money.

That RSU 10 board meeting drew more than 600 people who adamantly opposed such a merger, Bruce Ross, an RSU 10 board member and Dixfield Withdrawal Committee member, said.

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RSU 10 has 10 schools and 2,800 students from the towns of Canton, Carthage, Dixfield, Peru, Buckfield, Hartford, Sumner, Byron, Mexico, Roxbury, Rumford and Hanover.

Jon Holmes, a local businessman who launched the petition drive, has said he wants the former SAD 21 towns of  Dixfield, Canton, Carthage and Peru to form a district. He believes it would be less costly and ensure the existence of Dirigo High School.

However, Dixfield is the only one of them to form a Withdrawal Committee. The vote to do so also approved using up to $50,000 for the related expenses.

“Carthage has a petition, but only voted to raise $3,000,” Ross said. “The Peru (selectmen’s) board is in such an uproar, and Canton selectmen don’t want anything to happen. My concern is they are leaving Dixfield high and dry,” Ross said.

“If the other three towns aren’t coming on board, we’d be wasting our money,” Ross said. “We’ve got to find out what these other towns are going to do. We can proceed, but I don’t want to spend that money.”

Holmes agreed.

“If it’s just Dixfield alone, I don’t want to spend the $50,000 just to spend $50,000,” he said.

Ward said information he received from the state Department of Education indicated towns must have a minimum of $25,000 for the withdrawal process.

“If they don’t, they will have some issues. Also, each town has to go through the process by themselves and set up their own educational system before coming together,” he said.

Ward further said he believes most people (in Dixfield) want the status quo — to save Dirigo High School.

“You can negotiate that with the board for Dirigo High School to stay as Dirigo High School for a number of years,” he said.

“Negotiating to keep Dirigo, that’s the key,” Holmes said.

One of the goals for Wednesday’s meeting was to get representatives from Canton, Carthage and Peru to attend.

Only RSU 10 board member Faith Campbell of Canton and Dixfield board member Barbara Chow attended, as well as the four members of the Withdrawal Committee.

Wednesday’s meeting also was set to hear presentations by two lawyers with experience in the school withdrawal process. Only one attended.

Dan Stockford of the Lewiston law firm of Brann and Isaacson, who also represents Andover in its withdrawal process from SAD 44 in Bethel, suggested that the Dixfield Withdrawal Committee look at a timetable for withdrawal.

The next meeting of the committee is at 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at the RSU 10 Central Office, Chairman Bob Withrow said.

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