FREEPORT — Town councilors voted unanimously Tuesday night to hold a town-wide vote in December to decide whether to begin the official process of withdrawing from Regional School Unit 5. The referendum is scheduled Dec. 17, with a public hearing set for Dec. 3.

If the majority of Freeport voters cast “yes” ballots to begin withdrawal, a committee will be formed to begin a statutorily defined, 22-step process to draw up a contract that spells out how the three towns that comprise RSU 5 – Freeport, Durham and Pownal – would split up.

The contract, called a withdrawal agreement, must be approved by local and state education officials before it would again come before Freeport residents for an up-or-down vote.

The seven councilors on Tuesday night also unanimously voted gave the potential withdrawal committee a budget limit of $50,000. The committee would include one member of the Freeport Town Council, one member from the general public, one member from the group that filed the petition for withdrawal, and one member from the RSU board who represents Freeport.

The press for withdrawal from RSU 5 came after a bond vote in June for a $17 million upgrade to Freeport High School failed by a thin margin, due in part to opposition from Durham and Pownal residents, who saw the cost in taxes as too burdensome.

A grassroots group in Freeport – called Moving Freeport Forward – was formed. It collected nearly 500 signatures from Freeport residents, more than the roughly 400 required to initiate the withdrawal process. The regionalization process implemented statewide in 2009 was based on the premise of financial savings. Those savings did not materialize, and estimates about Freeport High School’s ability to accommodate students from Durham and Pownal were inaccurate, according to Moving Freeport Forward.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com