Many in Freeport have asked what will happen to kids from Durham and Pownal if Freeport withdraws from RSU 5. RSU 5 will still exist as Durham and Pownal, but we won’t have a high school. Before any withdrawal plan is approved by the Department of Education, state law requires that there must be a plan in place for where the Durham and Pownal kids would go. This plan must include a 10-year contract with at least one high school, guaranteeing a spot to all kids from Durham or Pownal who wish to go there. Some of those advocating for withdrawal believe that most, if not all, of the kids from Durham and Pownal would simply continue to attend Freeport High School as tuition students. In my opinion, that is very unlikely.

Even if high school choice returns, the new Durham/Pownal RSU 5 School Board would almost certainly pay for transportation to only one high school. That means the high school we contract with would presumably need to have enough capacity to take all of the Durham/Pownal kids. With Freeport’s withdrawal, the recently approved renovation bonds disappear. Freeport would be back to square one with regard to any expansion of the high school. A new plan would need to be developed and ultimately approved by Freeport voters. That process could take at least a year, and probably much longer.

In my opinion, the new Durham/Pownal RSU 5 board would not risk locking our kids into an undersized, outdated school building for 10 years when there is no voter-approved plan in place to expand the high school. The risks would be too great, especially when there are other options available. Students from Durham and Pownal already at FHS would likely be able to finish there, but after those students are gone, Freeport could again be faced with the challenges of a student population too small to efficiently support four school buildings, as was the case in the pre-RSU years.

There is no doubt that bringing our three towns together as RSU 5 has presented many challenges. When you consider that the entire existence of the RSU has coincided with some of the toughest economic conditions we’ve seen since the Great Depression, I think we have met those challenges well. Kids in all three towns are benefitting from the educational opportunities that come with being part of a larger school system than we’ve known in the past. For the kids, RSU 5 is working. It would be a shame to destroy that now.

Durham and Pownal’s voting record on school budgets is troubling to many. There is no denying this record, but I believe this will change as more and more people learn and understand that the tax increases impacting our towns in recent years have been the result of decisions in Augusta, not the fault of RSU 5. For those worried that Freeport is “imposing its will” on the other towns, I say, ”Don’t be.” Pownal could have tried to withdraw at some point, but hasn’t. Last year, Durham voted to remain in RSU 5 by a 3-1 margin. Yes, many voted to stay because it proved to be more cost effective than standing alone, but many also voted to stay because we understood the value of being partners with our neighbors in a K-12 school system and having a high school of our own to call “home.”

It’s certainly true that we have been on a bumpy road, and that there will undoubtedly be more bumps ahead. However, I think the tide is turning and educational momentum is building. We have an approved plan in place for taking care of the high school and are poised for a successful future. Let’s keep moving forward.

The Freeport group advocating for withdrawal is to be commended for organizing an effective marketing campaign. They will no doubt do a good job getting their supporters to the voting booth. In response to that, it’s important that those in Freeport who are truly interested in moving forward show up and vote no on Dec. 17.

Kevin Nadeau

Durham


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