Trenton School Committee discusses petition legal findings

TRENTON — “There is one way to withdraw from the AOS and that pathway has to follow through the School Board or the School Committee,” said Marc Gousse, superintendent for Alternative Organizational Structure 91 (AOS 91), at the Trenton School Committee’s regular meeting Tuesday.

At the meeting, the committee discussed the legal findings provided by the school’s attorney, Greg Im of Drummond Woodsum Attorneys at Law, regarding the citizens’ petition that will ask Trenton voters whether they want the School Committee and Board of Selectmen to form a committee to draft a plan of withdrawal from the AOS, which, according to the petition language, would go before the state’s Department of Education for approval and then to Trenton voters again for a final approval. 

According to Im’s findings, “What the petitioners are requesting does not follow any existing legal process for withdrawal from the AOS.”

The petition will be on the town’s warrant at its annual meeting in May. A public hearing for the petition is scheduled for April 20.

At the town’s last two Board of Selectmen meetings, Selectman Dan Monahan, who is also an attorney, advised the board to seek legal counsel regarding the petition’s legality. The board did not move to get a legal opinion. 

“It’s unfortunate that the town has chosen not to seek legal counsel,” Gousse said, calling it a “check and balance” on the school’s decision to get a legal opinion.  

Trenton School Committee Chairwoman Jennifer Bonilla added, “I do want to say, because I was reading the minutes from the select board meeting, one of the questions posed by a citizen was, ‘Well, who would sue?’”

“Anyone can sue because of this issue when it’s not legal,” she said. “It could be another school member that’s in the AOS, it could be just an average citizen who’s very upset about what’s going on.”

The debate over whether to consider withdrawal from the school district was prompted after the School Evaluation Options Committee (SEOC), a group formed by the Board of Selectmen, researched ways the town could ease the burden on taxpayers for funding school costs. 

After a year of research, the SEOC recommended withdrawing from the AOS to the School Committee, which voiced its support for staying in the school district. Susan Sargent, the chairwoman of the SEOC, which has since disbanded, then circulated a petition to place the issue on the town’s warrant.

Bonilla addressed citizens’ concerns about school spending. 

“We work daily to find savings,” Bonilla said. She said that being a part of the AOS provides opportunities for sharing costs with other member schools.

“We will get more savings as we find other ways that we can save with other schools.”

“I have no issues working with anybody to try to find savings within the AOS. This [withdrawal] is just not the pathway. This is just separating a town, it’s creating problems and it’s really sad,” she added.  

Gousse added that developing a school budget should be a collaborative process between citizens, town officials and school officials.

“I would humbly say to the citizens and to the people out there that I think the citizens deserve collaboration among school officials, among school leaders and among municipal leaders,” he said. “It does not have to be this way. It should be civil, it should be respectful, it should be collaborative.”

Rebecca Alley

Rebecca Alley

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Rebecca is the Schoodic-area reporter and covers the towns of Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock, Lamoine, Sorrento, Sullivan, Waltham, Winter Harbor and Trenton. She lives in Ellsworth with her husband and baby boy who was joyously welcomed in June 2020. Feel free to send tips and story ideas to [email protected]

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