Saco residents on Tuesday voted in favor of forming a withdrawal committee to develop a plan to leave Regional School Unit 23.

The effort to leave the school district that covers Saco, Dayton and Old Orchard Beach is led by Citizens for Saco Education. Members say they want to return to local control and believe Saco would be better off financially on its own.

Jeff Christenbury of Citizens for Saco Education said the 1,718-484 vote “is a clear statement from the citizens of Saco that the status quo is not OK and that it’s absolutely worth a look to withdraw from the RSU.”

Gary Curtis, chairman of the RSU board, said he was disappointed with Saco’s vote on withdrawal.

“It’s unfortunate that even after three years our communities of Saco, Dayton and Old Orchard Beach are unable to come together and think as a district,” he said.

Tuesday’s vote clears the way for the formation of a four-member committee to develop an exit plan. The members will include an RSU school board member from Saco, a city councilor, a resident and a representative of Citizens for Saco Education.

The committee will have 90 days to develop an agreement that outlines how Saco would withdraw from the school district, addressing issues that include union agreements, joint contracts and debt.

The RSU board must agree with the plan, which then has to be approved by the state education commission. The plan would then need to be approved by at least 50 percent of the total number of Saco residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

Also on Tuesday, voters for the second time rejected the school budget, 1,022-1,876. The $43.5 million budge was a decrease of $116,000 from the budget for the most recent fiscal year. Voters in June rejected a $43.6 million budget, forcing school officials to revisit the budget.

“The board will now have to go back and reassess budget issues,” Curtis said. “This time around I think it’s safe to say that Saco will feel the pain of cuts. Up to this point there have been none (in Saco).”

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