2012-05-25 / Front Page

Arundel group listens to proposal

Cost analysis the focus of withdrawal agreement draft
By Adam Chabot
Staff Writer

The Arundel Withdrawal Committee met with Charles Lawton, chief economist of Planning Decisions, to discuss plans for what type of research and data the committee will require. The committee is currently in the process of drafting a proposal to withdraw from Regional School Unit 21.

Throughout Lawton’s proposal, the committee determined that because of a tight deadline, Lawton’s immediate role will focus on cost-analysis and the financial implications until a draft agreement is put together.

“We have a lot of experience within the company, in regard to municipal affairs, across the whole range of activities,” Lawton said about the Portland-based consulting agency. “(We) focus on municipal land use, zoning, economic development, school enrollment projections and a whole range of community and economic development.”

The data will include cost-analysis between the two scenarios, including) the costs for capital improvements such as renovations at Kennebunk High School, Kennebunkport Consolidated School and Mildred L. Day School.

Lawton also said Planning Decisions has partnered with Judith Haggerty, a former superintendent of schools from Thomaston. Lawton said Haggerty’s experience in consolidation and dismantling of school districts can provide valuable insight.

According to a timeline proposed by the withdrawal committee, in order to allow the maximum amount of time for an agreement to be moved to voters for November elections, a withdrawal agreement should be drafted by June 15.

Due to the slim timeline, the committee decided to shift efforts from general option discussions to deciphering specific costs for withdrawing from RSU 21 and reassembling into a school unit nearly parallel to what Arundel had been during its School Administrative District form.

Withdrawal committee officials said that by focusing Lawton’s efforts on fiscal responsibilities, more taxpayer money will be saved.

Although Lawton isn’t expected to have data prepared for June 15, committee officials want to make the withdrawal agreement deadline so Lawton can use the agreement in his cost-analysis.

“I think what most people want to know going forward, what is it going to cost for us to stay within the RSU, and going forward, what would it cost us to stay on our own, and what’s the cost difference between the two,” said Diane Robbins, a member of the committee from the RSU Board of Directors representing Arundel.

Lawton said initially, his proposal included the town’s costs and time needed to hold public forums and private meetings to discuss theoretical parameters such as whether Mildred L. Day School could house students in kindergarten through eighth grade or the possibility of new structural opportunities to the school itself.

“If we’re not going to do that, then that task is clearly reduced, and it’s a more limited task of your ‘A’ the way it was three years ago versus ‘B’ - what it was last year, both projected forward,” Lawton said. “It’s a doable task.”

Lawton believes he can have the cost-analysis work completed before a tentatively scheduled public hearing of Aug 24. He will present a revised work proposal for the committee at its next meeting with an updated work agenda and costs.

Tom Danylik, an Arundel selectman and member of the committee, wanted to make it clear to the public that whatever happens in the withdrawal agreement or from the data Lawton prepares, no drastic changes are planned and there is no reason for anyone to assume large changes are coming.

“I don’t think there’s anybody that’d have any idea that we’re going to withdraw to something different than what we have right now. That’s impossible,” Danylik said.

If Arundel succeeds in its withdrawal, it would be the first time a Maine town has tried to leave an RSU to become its own educational entity. The only other town in Maine to successfully remove itself from an RSU is Starks, but Danylik said Starks left one RSU for another.

He said regardless of the ultimate data Lawton is able to provide, the primary goal is being able to provide quality education to Arundel students.

“If I’m the commissioner, I’m going to say, “What are you going to provide for these kids?’” Danylik said.

Jack Turcotte, chairman of the withdrawal committee, agrees that providing education is the most important thing, but doesn’t want the committee to feel obligated to make futuristic decisions.

“This committee has to be careful not to over step its bounds and go beyond the scope of what’s this committee’s designed to do,” Turcotte said.

Turcotte stressed that even though frustrations may rise from not being able to specifically say where the school will be in years to come, the committee must focus on simply putting together a withdrawal agreement.

The Arundel Withdrawal Committee was scheduled to meet again on May 23 and 7:30 p.m. May 24 at the Mildred L. Day School library. Members will also meet in conjunction with RSU 21 Withdrawal Committee members at 4:30 p.m. on May 30 at Kennebunk Elementary School room A102 and following that meeting, will also meet at 6:30 p.m. at the Mildred L. Day School library on the same day. The Arundel committee will also meet at 7:30 p.m. May 31 at 7:30 at the school library.

Staff Writer Adam Chabot can be reached at 282-4337 ext. 233.

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