During the January 3 meeting of the AOS #77 school board in Perry to discuss the withdrawal of Calais, the remaining municipalities in the AOS indicated they would stay in the school system, at least for the following year, after Calais leaves. The board voted that the AOS central office will be moved from Calais to Eastport, and an attorney for the AOS gave his opinion that the Calais vote could be effective only for withdrawal in July of this year, and not for the following year, despite the wording on the Calais referendum.
AOS board members indicated they would like to keep the divorce between Calais and the AOS amicable, although they were concerned about Calais courting other municipalities in the AOS to get them to join with the new Calais district. Members of the public also were concerned about the cost to the AOS member towns that could result from Calais' withdrawal. Asking if the taxpayers in the 10 remaining municipalities will have to pay "the cost for this divorce," Lean McLean of Robbinston stated, "I want to know as a taxpayer that we won't have to absorb the costs of their [Calais'] decision."
One of the significant issues to be resolved is whether Calais would continue to be liable for its share of the costs for the contracts for the superintendent and special education director until the contracts expire. The superintendent's contract extends to 2017 and the special education director's until 2015, while the other contracts with AOS central office staff are made annually and expire at the end of this fiscal year. In a percentage based in student population, Calais has been paying for 37% of the AOS budget.
AOS attorney Edmond Bearor of Rudman Winchell in Bangor noted that neither the AOS statute or AOS agreement among the municipalities addresses the issue. He felt that it would be more likely that a court would not find Calais to be liable for its share of the continuing contracts but that the superintendent and special education director, as third parties, could sue each of the 11 municipalities, including Calais, if the contracts were breached. He believes the AOS, though, would not have a valid claim against Calais for its share of the contracts.
Thad Zmistowski, an attorney with Eaton Peabody representing Superintendent James Underwood, agreed with Bearor's interpretation that the superintendent would have rights to pursue a claim against any of the municipalities that are members of the AOS if the contract was breached. He noted that such an occurrence has never happened before.
Board chair Shannon Emery noted that the possibility of the expense of a lawsuit would be a reason for negotiations for an agreement between the AOS and Calais.
Responding to other questions that were asked of him, Bearor said the Calais vote to withdraw could be effective only in July 2013, since the AOS agreement says the vote has to be taken no less than 60 days before the end of the fiscal year. Although the Calais referendum asked if residents favored withdrawal on or before July 1, 2014, Bearor said, "The AOS agreement trumps the wording of the Calais referendum." He believes that another vote would need to be taken during the following fiscal year if Calais decided to withdraw in July 2014.
David Markow, a member of the AOS board representing the Calais School Committee, said the Calais board expected to vote on the withdrawal date on its January 8 meeting. He noted that the Calais board has retained legal counsel and received some advice on searching for a superintendent. Emery stated that for the AOS meeting it would be assumed that Calais is leaving this year.
AOS board member Susan Corey of Dennysville asked if Calais is "courting" any other districts to join it, and Markow replied, "Not at this point." The Calais board does plan to discuss its withdrawal with some communities, so that they will know about Calais' plans. Markow commented, "We just want to communicate with sending schools about what we're doing." Since some of the communities had expressed frustration that Calais had not communicated with them about their plans, he said that Calais is trying "to repair some of those problems."
Another AOS board member, Herb Clark of Charlotte, commented that Calais had not done its homework for the November referendum vote. "This will be some expensive for Calais. The people in Calais don't know that. You're not big enough to go by yourself." Will Bradbury, an AOS board member from Eastport, responded that the issue is not the concern of the AOS board. "We need to concentrate on AOS business."
Concerning changes that different municipalities may see once Calais withdraws, Superintendent Underwood noted that any municipality that does not have a school can send its students to any school in any district, unless it has a contract with a district. He said the decision on whether to remain in the AOS "will not impact where students go." Board members from the remaining municipalities then indicated they would remain in the AOS, at least for the coming year. A member from Robbinston was not present, but Robbinston board chair Tom Critchley says the town will remain with the AOS for now.
Charles McPhee, a member of the Alexander School Committee, said if the town's share increases much after next year's AOS budget is finalized that the town may choose to leave. "We're not happy with the services. We need more time with the superintendent," he said, adding, "We agreed to go ahead for at least one year." He urged that the AOS budget should be reduced by the 37% that has been Calais' share. Board chair Emery said the board will need to discuss any possible layoffs of central office staff in looking at budget reductions, while board member Will Bradbury noted that the new Calais office will need staff, so it could be possible that no one would end up without a position.
Both the unused high school wing of the Lubec Consolidated School and either the former superintendent's office or the unused space in the elementary school in Eastport were offered as possible sites for the new location of the AOS #77 central office. Underwood noted that the elementary school would be more desirable than the superintendent's office in Eastport, since that building is small, has mold issues and would be more costly to keep open. The board voted in favor of moving the office to Eastport as soon as possible, with Calais members abstaining.
In response to other questions, Bearor stated that he believes Calais is not entitled to any of the AOS property upon its withdrawal, since the city voluntarily began the withdrawal process; that citizens can bring a petition for a town vote on withdrawing from the AOS, with the vote needing to be done before April 30 for withdrawal in July; and that a review by the commissioner of education on the number of students left in the AOS is not needed, since a new AOS is not being formed. Following Calais' withdrawal, the AOS will have fewer than the 1,000 students required by state law to form an AOS.
Bearor said the AOS and Calais should draw up an agreement concerning property and contractual agreements. The Calais data that is contained in the AOS computer programs will need to be separated out, and Emery noted that taxpayers would be paying twice for that cost -- when the data was merged together and when it is removed.
Finally, with a number of municipalities wanting to have regular school board meetings more frequently, it was agreed that the meeting schedule will be revised by the board for when Calais has left.