TRENTON — School officials say that if the town’s voters endorse a citizens’ petition asking the Board of Selectmen and School Committee to appoint a committee to draft a plan for Trenton to withdraw from the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (AOS 91), it will have no legal effect.
Seventy-five registered voters signed the petition, enough to have it placed on the warrant for this year’s Town Meeting, which is tentatively set for May 18. Supporters of withdrawal maintain that taxpayers could save money if Trenton Elementary were no longer part of the school system. Withdrawal was recommended by the School Evaluation Options Committee, a group of citizens appointed by the selectmen 18 months ago to look for ways to lower the cost of education for Trenton taxpayers.
The citizens’ petition states that if a withdrawal plan drafted by the proposed committee of citizens were to be approved by the Maine Commissioner of Education, the plan would be voted on at a future town meeting.
But according to Greg Im, an attorney with Drummond Woodsum, the school system’s legal firm, “What the petitioners are requesting does not follow any existing legal process for withdrawal from the AOS.”
He said in a letter to MDIRSS Superintendent Marc Gousse that membership in – and withdrawal from – the school system is governed by an interlocal agreement approved by all 10 towns in the system.
Im said a town could terminate its membership if the Commissioner of Education approves a termination plan developed by the town’s School Committee and the plan is then approved by voters of the town.
Gousse said that means “the only legal mechanism for withdrawal from the AOS rests solely with the School Committee.”
The Trenton School Committee has already voted unanimously to reject the idea of withdrawing from the school system. And nearly all the school’s teachers and staff signed a letter in December expressing strong opposition to withdrawal.
Trenton School Committee Chair Jennifer Bonilla said in a prepared statement on Tuesday, “Outside of MDIRSS, we cannot provide our students with a comparable quality education nor provide our faculty and staff with the support and professional development they need to deliver a superior education to our students.
“Leaving MDIRSS would cost Trenton taxpayers more, not less. Experience has
demonstrated that MDIRSS provides cost savings for state-required…services.”
Bonilla said School Committee members, who are elected by the town’s voters, “are charged with making the informed decisions about providing education for its students and being fiscally responsible to the town’s taxpayers. The petitioners are requesting that the School Committee take actions which the committee has determined to be imprudent and in violation of their responsibilities.”
She acknowledged the need for school officials to see that the schools operate as cost effectively as possible.
“MDIRSS board members and the individual town school committee members are committed to finding ways to increase efficiencies, manage costs and continue to provide excellence in education,” she said.
Bonilla said the Trenton School Committee plans to hold public workshops prior to the Town Meeting to provide information about the value of being part of the MDIRSS and to answer questions.