DIXFIELD — Jon Holmes believes his town would be better off if it withdrew from RSU 10 as long as the other former SAD 21 member towns did so as well.
“My concerns are the students, taxes, local control and sports,” he told a group of about 50 residents at the required public hearing for any town that seeks to withdraw from their school district. “Kids do better in a smaller school than in a larger one.”
Prompting the petition that received more than 130 signatures to vote on whether to form a committee to study a possible withdrawal was an RSU 10 board meeting a few months ago when Superintendent Tom Ward suggested looking into combining Dirigo and Mountain Valley high schools.
“It's not an issue now, but it was and could be again,” Holmes said.
He also said that school taxes have increased since the Dirigo, Mountain Valley and Nezinscot regions merged three years ago and that the cost to educate students rose by about $1,000 each.
He was also concerned that local control was lost because the majority of voters in the 12-town region approved it. Dixfield voted down the most recent RSU 10 budget.
Although Dixfield is the only former SAD 21 town that has presented a petition to its Board of Selectmen to explore the possibility of withdrawal, Holmes said Peru is currently circulating a similar petition and Canton and Carthage are waiting to see what will happen with Dixfield.
Ward said each town must go through the process individually.
Holmes had already asked the town for up to $50,000, largely for legal costs, to begin the process if voters agree at the Nov. 6 election.
Town Manager Eugene Skibitsky said the funds would likely come from town surplus.
Ward said a decision by townspeople to go forward with the withdrawal procedure would also cost RSU 10 money for legal costs and negotiations.
He said Dixfield would have to develop a state-approved plan for educating its children if residents decide to pull out of the district.
He told those at the public hearing that the decision for the three former SADs to merge was prompted by continually reduced state aid to education.
“We knew we had to do something,” he said of the former superintendents of SAD 39 and SAD 43. Ward was the superintendent of SAD 21.
He also said that creating an RSU provided many more programs, increased technology for students and saved taxpayers money. During the first year of consolidation, $675,000 was saved because of combining three administrative offices into one. Then, because of the scale of the new district, more than 35 positions weren't filled when a staff member retired.
“The RSU is the best thing for children to preserve what we had,” he said.
The most recent budget increased for the first time because of fixed costs that continue to increase, along with higher valuations of the member towns.
He said the district is trying to find more savings by reorganizing space in each region.
Specifics won't be fine-tuned until a study of future enrollment is completed in October.
He also tried to alleviate fears that the three existing high schools will merge anytime soon. He said the state won't have money for such projects for at least a dozen years.
Holmes emphasized that if the other former SAD 21 towns decide not to withdraw, then he wouldn't favor Dixfield's withdrawal. He also asked residents to contact him if they had any questions about the petition.
“We'll see if this is the right thing to do,” he said.