Preliminary plans to build a new middle school in Windham have prompted Raymond residents to petition for withdrawal from Regional School Unit 14.
A committee that was formed to address problems with the middle school buildings in both towns has come up with three potential solutions for the RSU 14 board to consider. All of them include building a new school in Windham.
“I purposely drug my feet thinking, they’re not going to go this way,” said Raymond Selectwoman Teresa Sadak, who started the petition in January.
The committee’s recommendation in June to build a new school, either exclusively for Windham students or for students from both towns, spurred Sadak to collect the signatures necessary for a November referendum asking Raymond voters if they want to look at leaving the two-town district.
The new school, which wouldn’t qualify for state aid, would add hundreds of dollars onto the tax bills of homeowners in Raymond, where the middle and elementary schools are underused, said Sadak.
“A lot of people can’t pay their taxes now,” she said.
Raymond’s town clerk has verified the petition’s 352 signatures – well over the 223, or 10 percent of voters in the last gubernatorial election, required by the state – and Sadak will present them Tuesday to the rest of the board of selectmen, which would have to vote to hold a referendum.
The committee’s recommendations are just the latest plans for addressing facilities needs since the towns decided in 2008 to consolidate into one school district.
Previously, the school board had looked at moving students from Jordan-Small Middle School in Raymond into Raymond Elementary School and also at redistricting the schools so that some students from Windham would attend school in Raymond. Both proposals were panned by parents, and the board eventually rejected them.
In addition to the buildings’ needs – including upgrades to their roofs, windows, and heating and electrical systems – Windham Middle School is overcrowded, forcing some students to attend classes in the 68-year-old Field Allen School. Jordan-Small, on the other hand, is at about half-capacity.
In considering ways to address those issues, the committee narrowed the possibilities to three options: renovating Jordan-Small and building a new Windham Middle School; shifting grades within the district’s schools and building a new consolidated middle school in Windham; or building a consolidated middle school without shifting grades.
The committee, which consists of school staff, officials and residents from both towns, plans to further discuss those options in a workshop with the school board next month.
Raymond officials came up with rough figures for the cost of a new middle school to the town’s taxpayers and found the first full-year payment on a 30-year bond for a $40 million school would cost the owner of a $250,000 home $284 in taxes.
Superintendent Sandy Prince said the district is required to look at its formula for sharing costs between the two towns every five years and will begin that process at its meeting Wednesday.
But the opposition to building a new school isn’t just about the cost, Sadak said. If the school board opts to build a consolidated middle school, all Raymond students will have to travel – something North Windham parents adamantly opposed when redistricting was proposed in 2012 to alleviate overcrowding at Windham schools by making use of the undercapacity Raymond schools.
“Their kids are going to be on the bus before 6 a.m.,” Sadak said. “That’s a long day for kids.”
Several school board members either declined to comment or didn’t return requests for comment about Raymond’s potential withdrawal.
Prince said he believes the consolidation of the two towns’ schools has gone well and would like to see it continue.
“But they have to do what’s right for them, and I’ll support whatever comes out of it,” he said.