NEWRY — On Feb. 19 a public hearing took place at the Newry Town Office regarding the upcoming ballot question to stop the town’s school withdrawal process.

Fourteen people attended.

In November, all four towns in SAD 44 voted to approve a proposed change to the district’s local cost-sharing formula. For the approved formula to go into effect, Newry will have to vote to ends its current withdrawal process.

(For more background on the cost-sharing formula refer to last week’s article in the Bethel Citizen)

Discussion

“The refunding formula that is on the table does not solve our problems,” Newry resident Gary Drown said. “It brings us from $105,000 per student down to approximately $90,000 per student and it doesn’t address the poor quality of education.”

Drown currently serves on the Newry Withdrawal Committee.

“If we do choose to take this offer that the other towns have given us, this reduction in payments, it doesn’t mean the town can’t form another withdrawal committee, it just means we’re going to have to terminate this one,” Newry resident Jim Sysko said.

Sysko resigned from the withdrawal committee in November of last year.

“What I feel happened was that both our lawyer and our representative both recommended highly that this was probably the best avenue to take at this time,” selectman Gary Wight said. Wight also serves on the Newry Withdrawal Committee.

“The only question I would have if anybody wants to keep going is ‘Where?’” Selectman Jim Largess said. “We’ve been looking at this for four years and we’ve gotten to here. I don’t see the other option.”

Drown then brought up LD 1336, which is a bill that would provide for binding mediation to settle Newry’s withdrawal negotiations.

“We were in an atmosphere last spring where we had an opportunity to get LD 1336 to pass, but I want to be clear that 1336 wasn’t going to get us withdrawal, it was going to get us a proposal that they chose for us, not something we chose,” Town Administrator Amy Bernard said. “They would put a proposal on to the town of Newry, and the town of Newry would have to vote yes or no.”

Essentially, a facilitator would decide what people get to vote on. The withdrawal committee would not get to decide what to bring and negotiate with SAD 44.

Bernard said that even if LD 1336 had passed, it would only apply to a future withdrawal process.

Drown viewed the situation differently.

“When you go to mediation you go and discuss your issues and the mediator tries to get you to come to an agreement,” he said.

Bernard said she thought the town went to non-binding mediation before she became town administrator.

Drown said that it will be difficult for Newry to withdraw in a couple of years because he thinks the town will not be able to find a legislator to present another bill that could make the process work for Newry.

“We would have a very difficult time, in my opinion, in two years of asking any legislator to sponsor legislation that would help a withdrawal process,” he said. “It’s now or never.”

Sysko said binding mediation would only have happened if 1336 had passed.

“1336 would have required both parties to sit down with a facilitator from the Department of Education and work out a compromise agreement,” Sysko said. “It was just binding mediation, it was not definite, imposed rule over us. It would have been a solution based on both sides.”

“We’re going backwards to what could’ve happened. What did happen is the three towns in SAD 44 came to a political compromise,” Largess said.

“I have some ideas that I think would make the proposal even better than it currently is,” Drown said.

Drown said he wanted to discuss his ideas with Wight and Bonnie Largess, both members of the withdrawal committee, but that both refused.

“We already agreed, majority rule, we did not want to go anymore, we wanted to accept this,” Bonnie said.

“In order for us to come to an agreement we have to get together and negotiate,” Drown said.

“I contacted the state so I know what my rights are as a member,” he added, referring to his request to want to meet with other withdrawal committee members.

“I think they have the same right to say that they don’t want to meet with you,” Bernard said.

Drown said the vote was to recommend to the town that they stop the withdrawal committee. He said the committee could still meet because the only people who can decided to stop the committee are the voters of the town.

“Were taking this to the town to stop the process,” Wight said.

The discussion lasted nearly an hour.

The vote is on Monday March 4 at the Newry Town Office from 8 .am. to 8 p.m. If the withdrawal process is stopped, the funding formula change will take effect July 1. If the vote does not pass, the withdrawal committee will  start meeting again and will have to appoint another member, town officials said.

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