Saco residents voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to withdraw from the city’s regional school union, ending a two-year effort to break up the district it formed with Dayton and Old Orchard Beach.
Vangel Cotsis, a member of the group leading the withdrawal process, said Saco residents sent a clear message with a 2,996-to-977 vote in favor of leaving RSU 23.
“I’m excited for the city of Saco to be able to invest in education in a way they haven’t been able to in the last four years,” Cotsis said. “I’m also happy for the educators in Saco, who continually said in their view education moved backwards with scarce resources and the cutting of programs.”
The school union withdrawal question was the last step in a process that has stretched on for nearly two years as a withdrawal committee and school officials negotiated a plan for Saco to leave the district. Some Saco residents say the city was forced into the RSU under the threat of state penalties, and have been pushing since 2009 to go back to a standalone school district.
There was some pushback against the withdrawal process by residents concerned about transparency, a 10-year contract with Thornton Academy and uncertainty about future K-8 funding for the city.
In order for the withdrawal to go through, at least 3,792 people had to vote on the question.
A special election will be held Dec. 10 to elect a local school board. Meanwhile, Dayton is set to vote Nov. 19 on whether it will withdraw from the regional school unit. Old Orchard Beach will remain in RSU 23 regardless of what Dayton voters decide.
Saco residents also elected a new mayor, city councilors and school board members.
In the mayoral race, former state Rep. Donald Pilon won with 2,000 votes. City Councilor David Tripp received 1,799 votes. The mayor holds a largely ceremonial position and leads City Council meetings, but does not vote with the council.
Current Mayor Mark Johnston decided not to seek re-election so he could focus on running his downtown business.
Tripp, 72, has served on the City Council off and on for eight years. He also ran unsuccessfully for mayor six years ago.
Pilon, 62, a real estate broker, represented part of Saco in the Legislature for eight years before leaving because of term limits. Pilon said his connections and understanding of state government would make him a “great resource” for the city.
In the three-way race for the Ward 1 City Council seat, political newcomer David Precourt got 247 votes and edged out former Councilor Margaret “Peg” Mills, who got 219 votes, and former Planning Board member Cynthia Chadwick-Granger, who received 233 votes.
In Ward 2, incumbent Councilor Leslie Smith Jr. got 309 votes and held off a challenge from newcomer Roger Gay, with 281 votes. Smith, the city’s longest-serving councilor, was first elected in 1989.
Bette Brunswick ran unopposed for the Ward 3 seat, which was open after Councilor Marie Doucette decided not to seek a third term.
In Ward 4, political newcomer Kevin Roche garnered 371 votes to win over incumbent Philip Blood, who received 350 votes.
Ward 5 Councilor Arthur Tardif, who has served on the council since 1993, ran unopposed for another term. Ward 6 Councilor Eric Cote, first elected in 1999, also ran unopposed.
Political newcomer Nathan Johnston collected 178 votes and narrowly beat incumbent Marston Lovell, who got 176 votes, in a rematch of the 2011 Ward 7 race. Johnston is the son of current Mayor Mark Johnston and RSU 23 board member Beth Johnston.
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @grahamgillian