Dixfield Withdrawal Committee holds initial meeting

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DIXFIELD — The RSU 10 Withdrawal Committee met for the first time Wednesday night since this town’s residents voted in November to begin the procedure for leaving the school union.

Dixfield Selectman Bob Withrow was elected chairman of the four-person committee. Others are RSU 10 board member Bruce Ross, local small business owner Todd Blodgett, and petitioner for the withdrawal process and former small business owner Jon Holmes.

RSU 10 board Chairman Jerry Wiley began the meeting and assisted the committee through the initial agenda. He will no longer be a part of the committee, but is required by state law to call the first meeting.

Superintendent Tom Ward, along with Dirigo High School English teacher Charles Maddaus also attended the meeting in the RSU 10 Central Office.

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Withrow said the committee must first consider hiring outside help, which will most likely be an attorney, to represent the committee. He will also call on a municipal employee to keep the minutes of meetings.

“We’ll find out the background on attorneys, then this group can make a decision,” he said. “Not many schools have gone through this process.”

When Dixfield residents voted to begin the procedure for withdrawal, they also approved using up to $50,000 from the town for necessary costs.

He said the frequency of the Withdrawal Committee meetings will likely be determined after the next meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m., Jan. 16, at the Central Office.

At that meeting, at least one attorney will attend to describe the types of services that could be offered.

Also, Holmes said he plans to invite representatives from the other three towns that had made up the former SAD 21 before residents voted to merge SAD 21 with the former SADs 43, Rumford and Mexico, and SAD 39, Buckfield.

He said Canton, Carthage and Peru are all in various stages of petitioning for withdrawal from RSU 10. He said Carthage has already submitted its petition to selectmen, Peru is expected to submit its petition later this month and Canton has begun to gather signatures.

“Everyone has to be involved. Dixfield (probably) couldn’t do it alone, but if we did it together with lawyers, we could work it out,” Holmes said.

Each of the towns must also raise funds for costs associated with the withdrawal process.

Ward offered any help the committee may need as it works through the process.

“Each town in the former SAD 21 must follow the same process, which begins with a vote (in each town). It’s very complicated,” he said.

Holmes also said that he believes the merger was forced by the state.

“The governor told us we were to merge or be penalized, but that is no longer true. We did this under duress,” he said.

According to state law, a simple majority of district residents, based on the previous gubernatorial election, can succeed in withdrawing from a school unit if the referendum vote is done prior to Jan. 1, 2015. After that date, a two-thirds vote of those casting ballots must approve withdrawal.

In addition, the Maine Department of Education commissioner must approve the withdrawal and the program devised by the committee for educating students.

Residents of RSU 10 approved the merger in 2009.

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