June 24, 2013

School-cost conflict could split RSU 5

Differing priorities strain the union of Regional School Unit 5's towns of Freeport, Durham and Pownal.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Incomes among the three towns do not differ as much as some residents believe, Nadeau said. But the perceived inequality among the communities runs deep, and old feelings of resentment about the formation of the regionalized unit still linger, he said.

"It's a different society, pretty much," said Paul Randall, who raises cattle on his 86-acre farm on Hallowell Road in Pownal.

Randall is fearful he will be "taxed out" of town, and was skeptical of whether the $17 million proposal was the wisest way to spend money.

Eager to shoot down the new tax costs, Randall hand-painted a few dozen "vote no" signs with his girlfriend. Before he knew it, she was scrawling letters on the outhouse Randall uses at his fishing camp.

The simple message -- "Vote yes and you won't have a pot to ... in" -- turned the wooden shack into a powerful symbol of what voters felt was at stake. For added effect, he strapped the tiny structure to his truck bed and parked it near the polling place on Election Day for all to see.

"I'm 62," Randall said. "I work like I'm 25. I'm not making any money here. What's next after the school addition?"

Freeport resident Marianne Doyle, who was the most blunt in her call to examine dissolving the district at a Freeport Town Council meeting last week, highlighted the different priorities of the towns as a reason to explore departure.

Doyle said that after the regionalizing effort began in 2007, residents were led to believe the high school could accommodate the added students, that the district would receive preference for future state funds, and that the towns would be financially penalized if they opted against joining together.

"All of these have been proven to be untrue," Doyle said.

"(Pownal and Durham) have different histories and expectations around state support for school funding than we do in Freeport. As a result they are consistently paying more than they want, and we are getting less." 

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

mbyrne@pressherald.com

 

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