PERU — Four towns are circulating petitions to withdrawal from Regional School Unit 10, citing concerns about the district’s plans on using buildings, Natalie Sneller of Canton said.

Sneller said petitions in the former School Administrative District 21 towns of Dixfield, Canton, Peru and Carthage ask for a vote to form a four-person committee to work on withdrawal negotiations and to appropriate money to fund the cost of negotiations, research and analysis of withdrawal agreements.

Other towns in the district are Buckfield, Hartford, Sumner, Mexico, Rumford, Byron, Roxbury and Hanover.

Sneller said the idea began “within the last four to six weeks, around the time that RSU 10 was outlining their plan to reconfigure the district to make better use of their buildings.”

The RSU 10 Buildings and Grounds Committee proposed changes at the beginning of the year.

Sneller said the district held public forums in Rumford, Buckfield and Dixfield to discuss three options for restructuring the way the district’s buildings are used.

RSU 10 Superintendent Craig King said in a letter to the editor on March 4 that several of the schools in RSU 10 are “significantly below student capacity” and “require considerable renovation.”

“The current configuration, design and ages of our buildings are not particularly suited to the future needs of the students and communities of RSU 10,” King wrote. The proposed restructuring could better serve students and has the potential to reduce or maintain school operation costs, his letter said.

“A lot of parents and community members within the Dirigo region” expressed concerns on what it would cost to “provide renovations and expansions necessary for any of these options,” Sneller said.

“After the public forum in Dixfield, a number of community members were concerned and expressed that they didn’t know if their sentiments were heard,” Sneller said. “After some time, some community members from other towns started to express similar concerns and suggested that we either look into withdrawing from RSU 10, or hold another forum so people could express their thoughts.”

Between 50 and 60 people showed up at an impromptu forum organized by district residents and the idea of the four towns withdrawing began gaining momentum.

She said a major concern was that under RSU 10 restructuring, Dirigo taxpayers would be required to contribute significant tax dollars toward the projects, despite the fact that Rumford-Mexico facilities require most of the renovations.

Other concerns included that withdrawal would allow taxpayers more local control and the assurance that their money is being used for the benefit of their students and local facilities. Also, reconfiguration would eliminate the individualized learning program and teacher-student ratio in the Dirigo school system that allows every student an opportunity to be seen and heard.

Dixfield pursued withdrawing from RSU 10 in 2012, Sneller said, with the driving force being whether Dirigo High School would be allowed to stay open.

“The town was able to negotiate a deal with RSU 10 that Dirigo High School would stay open as long as a certain number of students attended the school per year,” Sneller said. “That satisfied the group up until this point.”

Sneller said the withdrawal process begins with the circulation of a citizen-initiated petition asking if residents want to withdraw from RSU 10 and raise money to fund research into the withdrawal process.

“After that, each town would appoint four people to a Withdrawal Committee, and they would start working with legal consultants and accountants and figuring out what it would cost for the towns to withdraw from the district,” Sneller said. “They would then begin work on drafting a post-withdrawal plan.”

Each town would hold public hearings on the final draft of the withdrawal agreement, which would be voted on by secret ballot.

Sneller said that the petitions being circulated are requesting a total of $78,000: $50,000 from Dixfield, $10,000 each from Peru and Canton, and $8,000 from Carthage.

The money would be used for negotiations and research of the withdrawal agreement, along with development and financial analysis of a post-withdrawal school structure.

“Any unused funds would be returned to the towns based on the percentage of funding they contributed,” Sneller said.

Sneller said some towns, such as Dixfield and Peru, had to gather the correct number of signatures by this week or the question would not appear on the town meeting warrant.

“Within the next three weeks, we’ll need to file the petitions for all four towns,” Sneller said.

The petition to place the withdrawal question on each town’s warrant requires “10 percent of voters from the previous gubernatorial election,” Sneller said.

“We’re fairly confident that we’ll be able to get the proper number of signatures by the deadline,” Sneller said. “It’s our responsibility as a withdrawal group to make sure this gets on each of the town’s warrants.”

Sneller said that if all four towns are successful in withdrawing, they would not reform as SAD 21.

“The idea would be to withdraw from RSU 10 and form a new RSU with all four towns,” Sneller said. “It would be a similar model to SAD 21.”

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