Thursday, December 5, 2013
North Yarmouth voters will decide Nov. 6 whether the town will consider withdrawing from School Administrative District 51 and borrow $100,000 to develop a plan that would allow it to happen.
The citizen-initiated referendum is among the first of 22 steps laid out by state law that could lead North Yarmouth to break a 46-year bond with the neighboring town of Cumberland.
North Yarmouth selectmen have scheduled a public meeting on Oct. 10 and a public hearing on Oct. 17, as required by law, so townspeople can learn more about the referendum and its potential effects before they vote. Both meetings will be at 7 p.m. at North Yarmouth Town Hall.
The referendum comes as SAD 51 considers the future of the aging North Yarmouth Memorial School, one of four schools in a district with declining enrollment. A panel weighted with North Yarmouth residents has recommended closing the North Yarmouth school and moving the district's fourth- and fifth-graders to Greely Middle School, which is located in Cumberland, next to Greely High School and Mabel Wilson Elementary School.
Mark Verrill, a former North Yarmouth selectman, got the referendum question on the ballot by gathering signatures from 203 registered town voters -- 10 percent of the 2,030 town voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election, as required by state law.
Verrill, who is a lifelong town resident and has two children at Greely High School, said he believes the school district's rising costs are hurting North Yarmouth taxpayers, and that the town can provide a better education for its children for less money.
"I don't want to throw any dirt," Verrill said. "I think we can do better."
Verrill said he believes North Yarmouth should build a new school for students in kindergarten through Grade 8 and provide tuition to families so children can attend their high school of choice.
Verrill also said he believes socioeconomic differences have developed between North Yarmouth and Cumberland in recent years. He said higher household incomes and commercial development efforts in Cumberland have created a gulf between the two communities and exacerbated North Yarmouth's tax burden for the school district.
Verrill said North Yarmouth's education costs have increased 25 percent in the past four years, to the point that school spending represents 80 percent of the town's operating costs. He said further details about the potential impact of withdrawal on town finances would be presented by the committee that would be appointed to develop a withdrawal agreement if North Yarmouth voters decide to go ahead with the withdrawal process.
District and Cumberland officials say it would be unfortunate for both communities if North Yarmouth withdrew from SAD 51.
"It would not be a good thing," said Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane. "Property values in these two communities are directly proportional to the quality of our educational system. I don't think you can calculate the impact of withdrawing from a high-performing school district."
Shane said Cumberland traditionally carried 75 percent of the district's tax burden while its children represented only 68 percent of the student population.
Taxes increased as much as 10 percent in Cumberland when Chebeague Island withdrew from the district a few years ago, Shane said.
Now, Cumberland's share is 70.6 percent and North Yarmouth's share is 29.4 percent, even though North Yarmouth's 697 school-age children represent 34 percent of the district's non-tuition student population, said Scott Poulin, finance director of SAD 51.
Each community's share of the district's $30 million budget is set by the state's school funding formula, Poulin said. The district has 1,345 students from Cumberland and 48 students from other communities.
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