Calais residents who attended the October 22 Calais School Liaison Committee meeting voiced their concerns about their city leaving the AOS. One member of the public said during the public question-and-answer segment, "Other communities are having trouble. Instead of going alone, wouldn't it make sense to pull together?" Describing the difficulties encountered by the Calais school board with an over‑taxed superintendent's office, she said, "If you've got a clog in your sink, you don't take apart the whole kitchen."
While the Calais city rooms do not accommodate a large crowd, all the seats were filled and some people were left standing by the door. They were present to hear the results of a report conducted by the consulting firm Planning Decisions on the fiscal impacts to the city if it should withdraw from the AOS.
The council has placed a referendum question on the November 6 ballot asking voters if they favor leaving the AOS on or before July 1, 2014. Many residents at the meeting said that they felt the referendum placement was rushed and did not give citizens enough time to understand the repercussions of leaving the AOS and going it alone. Councillor Chris Bernardini noted that the reason for placing the referendum on that date was because of the high turnout expected for the presidential election.
David Markow, a member of the liaison committee, explained that the report was set up to answer the primary question: Would it cost Calais to exit the AOS? The answer was yes. The report created two cost scenarios. Option A used a structure similar to pre‑AOS days, but with current salaries in place, with a net annual increase in cost of $81,200. Option B combined some responsibilities, resulting in a net cost increase of $70,266. However, during the meeting Markow, Bernardini, the city manager and other councillors present said that leaving the AOS was about more than just the money, that it was about local control and the inability of the superintendent to meet the needs of the Calais school board. Questions and financial matters were not being resolved in a timely manner, they said, and not just for them but for other school boards as well. Markow pointed out that the superintendent had "too many demands" for one person.
City Manager Diane Barnes noted that the report figures were based on budgeted amounts, not actual amounts, which could change the report's scenarios. In addition, the city's attorney, David Fletcher, noted that the AOS lawyer had suggested that even if Calais left the AOS it might be responsible for paying its 37% share of any continuing AOS staff contracts that had been entered into while the city was a member. For example, the superintendent's contract runs until 2017. Fletcher said that leaving the AOS was not risk free, but he was not convinced that Calais would be required by law to pay those costs. "Is it risk free? No it's not." He added, "We went through this with the ambulance authority when people said we'd have to pay, and we didn't."
Ed Leeman started the public question-and-answer segment by stating, "I'm totally committed to the town and to the school. But what is the goal with the referendum?" He added that if the referendum was based on control issues related to AOS staff not meeting the school's needs then "we need to address that issue and not sacrifice our school." He concluded, "I want what's best for the community and that means the entire community -- the surrounding communities."
A significant item outlined in the report is the projected 19% decline in enrollment figures for the Calais school as well as other AOS member schools over a 10-year period because of demographic changes. "The enrollment numbers are troubling," Markow said. It was that part of the report combined with a recent AOS meeting that had him reconsidering the timing of the referendum. He told the gathering, "Personally, looking at money, enrollment, where the AOS is at, I wouldn't be for it [leaving the AOS]." He added, "But if the AOS doesn't change, then I think we would need to go back to the referendum question." Bernardini suggested, "We can put a recommendation to vote no because we are not comfortable with the information we have right now, but we will start to do due diligence with the AOS to build accountability. But if we don't get that then we would make a recommendation in another year."
Markow was tasked with contacting AOS board Chair Shannon Emery to see if an AOS board meeting could be held as soon as possible to allow for Calais to discuss its concerns about administrative staffing levels, policies and board responsibilities. If a meeting could be held in time, then the Calais City Council would hold a special meeting to vote on a referendum recommendation that would be publicized in time for voters to learn about it before the November election.