More money approved for Newry Withdrawal Committee

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NEWRY — Residents voted 26-15 Monday night to appropriate $24,500 from the surplus account to finance the Newry Withdrawal Committee for the rest of fiscal  year 2017-18.

Committee Chairman Jim Sysko said the money will go almost entirely to consultants Mark Eastman and Dan Stockford. Eastman is the educational consultant, and Stockford is the legal counsel.

“We need our consultants to keep the process going. If we don’t have consultants, we make mistakes,” Sysko said.

The withdrawal effort began in 2014, when Newry residents voted 82-60 to withdraw from SAD 44, prompted by the amount of money Newry pays to educate its students.

Since then, a series of proposals and counterproposals have been offered, including changing the cost-sharing formula so Newry pays less, and the other towns, Bethel, Greenwood and Woodstock, pay more.

The new formula failed for the second time in November, keeping it at 100 percent property value. That means Newry pays about $3 million of the district’s nearly $10 million budget.

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If approved last November, the new cost-sharing method would have factored in student population from each town, reducing Newry’s share because the town has only about two dozen students enrolled.

District enrollment is about 750 students in grades kindergarten to 12, according to the SAD 44 website.

The committee had run out of money in its effort to negotiate a withdrawal agreement with SAD 44 for Newry voters to consider. It has spent about $50,000 on consultants and other fees.

Negotiations with the district have been in a stalemate because of claims that a significant financial hardship would fall on the remaining towns, if Newry voters approved an agreement and withdrew.

Additionally, the committee sent a letter to the school board to ask to re-initiate the process to hold a districtwide referendum on amending the cost-sharing formula for a third time. 

They requested the same terms as the previous vote. In the event the formula is approved in a new referendum, the committee will recommend to selectmen and Newry voters to terminate the withdrawal process.

School board member and committee member Bonnie Largess said the board will vote on whether to begin the referendum process at its next meeting Jan. 22.

emarquis@sunmediagroup.net

Newry selectmen, from left, Jim Largess, Virgil Conkright and Gary Wight, listen to residents at the special town meeting Monday night. Voters approved spending $24,500 to continue the Newry Withdrawal Committee’s work to leave School Administrative District 44. (Liz Marquis/Sun Journal)  

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