ARUNDEL – Comments from residents at a public hearing Wednesday on a proposed school withdrawal agreement centered mainly on school choice, an issue that officials and residents agreed is important to the town.

The hearing was the first chance for residents to weigh in on an agreement that outlines how Arundel would withdraw from Regional School Unit 21, which also includes Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. About 100 residents attended the hearing at the Mildred L. Day School.

Arundel is the first town in southern Maine to get conditional approval for a withdrawal agreement from the Department of Education. Four communities have scheduled votes to approve withdrawal plans and 13 other towns have formed withdrawal committees, according to the Department of Education.

Residents of Arundel, Frankfort, Glenburn and Veazie will vote on their withdrawal plans Nov. 6.

The withdrawals were expected by education officials because most RSUs formed under a school consolidation law has been in existence for at least 30 months, the required time before towns could petition for withdrawal, said David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the Department of Education.

In RSU 23, Saco and Dayton are working on plans to withdraw from the district those communities formed with Old Orchard Beach.

The effort for Arundel to withdraw from RSU 21 was formalized in April when residents voted 517-291 to form a withdrawal committee.

If the agreement is approved by voters, the town will form its own school administrative unit on July 1. The agreement would need approval from at least 50 percent of the number of Arundel residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

In the first year after the withdrawal, students from Arundel could attend the RSU 21 school they would have attended had Arundel not withdrawn.

Otherwise, all Arundel students in kindergarten through fifth grade would attend the Mildred L. Day School and all students in grades six through eight would attend Thornton Academy Middle School in Saco under an existing contract. High school students would attend Thornton Academy in Saco, according to the agreement.

Any Arundel student may choose to attend Kennebunk High School on a tuition basis from 2013 to 2026.

After residents expressed concern during the hearing that the agreement language was restrictive, members of the town and RSU 21 withdrawal committees voted to clarify that students could attend other schools at “private expense.” The agreement previously said parents would have to pay, but residents wanted to ensure that other options weren’t limited.

Bob Stewart of Arundel, who advocates for school choice statewide, said he feels the proposed agreement would limit the choices of an Arundel school board that would be formed if the withdrawal happens.

Diane Robbins of the Arundel withdrawal committee said the agreement would not limit the future choices of town residents, but makes clear to the Department of Education that the withdrawal committee considered the continuity of education for students in the district.

Jack Turcotte, chairman of Arundel’s withdrawal committee, said he was not surprised that most of the comments had to do with school choice. The proposed agreement simply follows the school choice arrangement that was in place for Arundel students before it joined the regional school unit, he said.

Several residents questioned how they could make an informed vote when financial implications of withdrawal have not been presented.

Selectmen hired Planning Decisions Inc. to do a financial analysis, which is expected to be presented to residents in October.

If the agreement is approved, Arundel will pay RSU 21 more than $131,000 for its share of debt on school renovation projects; more than $22,000 for its share of lease and purchase payments on photocopiers; and a portion of the RSU 21 superintendent’s contract.

 

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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