DYER BROOK, Maine — Calling the dichotomy between the two distinct regions of RSU 50 an “unhealthy relationship” that needs to be resolved, Superintendent Todd LeRoy presented suggestions to his board Monday evening on ways the district could move forward.

LeRoy, who joined the district in July 2016, suggested that it was in the best interests of the students and RSU member communities to expedite the withdrawal process being explored by six towns in the school system.

RSU 50, a combination of the former SAD 25 (Katahdin area) and CSD 9 (southern Aroostook County) school districts, was formed in 2011 as part of the state’s push for consolidation. The district stretches across about 460 square miles of northern Penobscot County and southern Aroostook County, making it one of the largest geographic school regions in Maine.

The Katahdin area RSU 50 members communities are Moro Plantation, Hersey, Patten, Sherman, Stacyville and Mount Chase. The southern Aroostook County member communities are Oakfield, Island Falls, Dyer Brook, Crystal, Smyrna and Merrill.

“You may not like everything you are going to hear, but I need to be honest with you and tell you what I am noticing in this district,” LeRoy said. “Being an ‘outsider,’ I have never seen a situation like we have here. It’s essentially an unhealthy relationship. You have two communities with their own schools who came together and have never truly gotten over the fact that they were rivals. I don’t know if it ever truly had a chance to be successful.”

There are about 650 students almost equally split between the Katahdin and southern Aroostook County regions.

Communities of the former SAD 25 began the withdrawal process after the RSU 50 board announced in January 2016 that it was considering drastic cuts, including the possible closure of Katahdin Middle-High School in Stacyville, with high school students to be sent 25 miles away to Southern Aroostook Community School in Dyer Brook.

That suggestion did not sit well with residents in the Katahdin region, and the board reversed its recommendation to close one of the schools after a group of more than 400 residents turned out at a special hearing later that January.

Although the decision to close the school was shelved, voters in the towns of Moro Plantation, Hersey, Patten, Sherman, Stacyville and Mount Chase decided pulling out of RSU 50 was in their best interests and started the withdrawal process.

Those communities want to create a new school district together to regain local control of their schools.

In June 2016, residents of five of the communities sent a loud and clear message as an overwhelming 84 percent of those voting were in favor of starting that process. Results from that election were: Stacyville, 86 yes, 12 no; Sherman, 202-38; Patten, 198-39; Moro Plantation, 11-0; and Hersey, 9-2. Residents of Mount Chase already voted and began the withdrawal process several months earlier.

LeRoy stated Monday that he felt it was in the best interest of the district to expedite the withdrawal process so the issue gets put to a final vote by the communities. He added that the entire district is essentially “stuck in a rut” until the matter is resolved.

“Both sides are holding each other back,” he said. “If the district is to remain together, we cannot go on with the situation we have. If we are going to be one, we need to be one.”

LeRoy said he feels extreme pressure from both regions to keep the amount spent on each equal.

“It feels like if I spend $5 in Katahdin, I have to spend $5 in Southern Aroostook,” he said. “Spending should be based upon need, not trying to keep things equal.”

LeRoy felt it was best for both regions to get the withdrawal negotiations concluded as quickly as possible so that the matter could go before the voters by either the June primaries or November at the latest.

Among his suggestions for the board to consider was eliminating the position of superintendent and instead having the two building administrators serve as superintendent/high school principal as a way the two groups could save money.

He also suggested that if the withdrawal moves forward, the two districts should enter into a five-year agreement to share services for things such as special education and transportation to help keep as many staff members as possible.

“These are just my recommendations,” LeRoy said. “Your job, as a board, will be to make the decisions as we move forward. This is a unique situation, and as we start to look at where we need to go from this point, we need to be aware of the impact we are having on our kids and our communities.”

No action was taken, and audience participation was not allowed at Monday’s meeting as it was considered a workshop session and not a full school board meeting. The matter will continue to be discussed by the board’s withdrawal negotiation committee before coming before the full school board at a later time.

Once a withdrawal agreement is successfully negotiated, it will go back to the residents of the former SAD 25 communities for a final referendum vote. The hope is everything would be finalized by the start of the 2018-19 school year.