NEWRY — The Commissioner of Education said in a letter last week to SAD 44 that he does not have the authority to suspend the Newry withdrawal negotiations, as the school board had requested.

The board asked for the suspension in order to pursue forming a districtwide committee to craft a local school funding formula change, intended to shift some of the financial burden from Newry to the other district towns.

SAD 44 Negotiations Committee Chairman Marcel Polak had said in a June letter to the commissioner that negotiations to come up with a withdrawal agreement for Newry voters to consider were at an impasse. He also said if the two processes happened at the same time, Newry voters could override anything the committee and district voters might decide. The formula change committee, he said, “could spend lots of time on it, the district could vote and Newry could still trump it rather quickly.”

But in a July 15 letter, acting Department of Education Commissioner Thomas Desjardin said he did not have the legal authority to honor SAD 44’s request.

“While I understand that the negotiations have been difficult, it is the responsibility of both parties to continue to negotiate in good faith until such time as an agreement has been reached or the (Newry) Withdrawal Committee decides that withdrawal is not in the best interest of the town,” he wrote. “The Withdrawal Committee should then allow the voters that began the withdrawal process to determine if the process should now end without actually voting on an approved withdrawal agreement.”

Desjardin said forming a committee to discuss changes to the funding formula was ‘a good idea,’ and could be done in conjunction with the withdrawal negotiations.


He also offered to provide suggestions for potential mediators, should the parties decide they need one.

Jim Sysko, the chairman of the Newry Withdrawal Committee, said Tuesday his panel is scheduled to meet with SAD 44 negotiators next week. He said he believes the parties will need a mediator at some point.

He also said, speaking only for himself, that he has no intention of recommending against withdrawal and putting to a town vote whether to end the process.

Sysko said he is neither for nor against changing the funding formula, but if another committee wanted to do that, he was fine with it. He said he wanted Newry to be more independent in controlling its education money. But he also said the priority is the education of the students.

“The money is secondary,” he said.

Newry selectmen, who received a copy of the commissioner’s letter at their Tuesday meeting, discussed it and the process for looking at a funding formula change, but did not conclude their board should take any steps at this time. The negotiations process had last left off with the Newry Withdrawal Committee awaiting a counterproposal from SAD 44.

Selectman Jim Largess said the message of the letter seemed “pretty clear” that it would be acceptable to talk about both a withdrawal agreement and a formula change at the same time.

“My goal is, how do we make education better in the area?” he said. “Change the funding formula? The Newry proposal? I don’t know.”

He said it would be good if there were a way to present options to the town.

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