STANDISH – Standish residents soundly rejected, in a 142-32 vote, a proposed $25,000 appropriation for a study on the financial and logistical issues involving a possible withdrawal from School Administrative District 6 during a special town meeting held Tuesday.

During the hour-long public comment period preceding the vote, residents expressed bewilderment regarding the proposed study and accused the council of escalating a petty conflict with the SAD 6 Board of Directors.

“When all is said and done, this entire thing seems like a $25,000 solution in search of a problem,” said George McNeil.

The proposed study, which would have been conducted by educational consultants Ray Poulin and Norm Higgins, would have examined the financial implications of a Standish withdrawal from SAD 6, which also serves Buxton, Hollis and Limington. The study would have been partly funded by Frye Island, which approached Standish with the secession proposal several months ago.

The council’s decision to pursue the withdrawal study was set in motion by a letter Standish Town Manager Gordon Billington received from Frye Island Town Manager Wayne Fournier on Sept. 5, expressing concern about the town’s nearly $1.4 million school assessment.

In response to Fournier’s concerns, the Standish Town Council considered Frye Island’s letter and decided to investigate the issue further to determine whether pursuing withdrawal from SAD 6 is feasible, Billington said. He said the two towns annually pay about $10 million to SAD 6.

At Tuesday’s meeting, residents accused the council of attempting to exact revenge on the SAD 6 directors after being allegedly slighted at a school board meeting last year. Lester Ordway urged the board to use the proposed $25,000 appropriation to hire a third-party mediator to settle any conflicts between the two bodies.

“We’re having infighting,” Ordway said. “We put up with us-and-them in Washington, and we put up with us-and-them in Augusta, and now we’re having it at a local level, and it’s too much for us.”

“Things are not rosy out here in taxpayer land,” Ordway said. “A few months ago I was looking in the Portland paper at the foreclosure notices – that particular day there were 14 foreclosures. Seven of them were in Standish. We’re hurting out here. We can’t afford anymore. Please find a way to work this out.”

When asked to justify the proposal, Billington cited Standish’s growing population as a reason to investigate a “stand-alone school district.”

“We are larger right now than Cape Elizabeth, Freeport, Yarmouth, Cumberland and Falmouth, all of whom have their own school units, so there are reasons to look at that,” Billington said.

While Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth have their own school districts, Cumberland and North Yarmouth make up SAD 51. Freeport is in the process of studying withdrawal from Regional School Unit 5.

In response, Vickie Higgins said that Billington’s analogy was like “comparing apples to oranges.”

“Regardless of the numbers, there is definite differences on median incomes, businesses in certain places, and other revenue aspects that those different towns have,” Higgins said. “I fail to appreciate that as a viable reason on which to base what needs to happen or not happen in Standish.”

Several Standish residents spoke in favor of the proposed study. Corey Smith said he was concerned about future overcrowding at the SAD 6 schools.

“It’s almost 4,000 students that go there,” Smith said. “I’m a father of two young and small children. By the time my kids get to high school or middle school, that number could almost double. I urge everyone to consider that and vote yes.”

Carolyn Biegel, who represents Standish on the SAD 6 board, urged the council to use the $25,000 to fix blighted public property around town.

“I think that there’s plenty of ways to spend some money in our own community to just spruce things up, if we want to talk about pride in our community,” Biegel said. “We’ve been talking about Bonny Eagle pride for the last couple years, and I’d like to think that we’d also be talking about Standish pride in the community, and using some of the funds to turn the streetlights back on, and open this building up five days a week.”

Councilor Philip Pomerleau said that there was no “big problem” between the council and the school board. The issue, he said, was that other towns in SAD 6 feel too comfortable dipping into the Standish town coffers. Pomerleau said that although Standish residents had unsuccessfully voted against a fitness center at the SAD 6 school in Buxton, they were still paying for it through their annual $533,000 contribution toward the Buxton school. Pomerleau said Standish taxpayers contribute 39 percent of the district’s total budget.

“The other towns get a pretty good deal, because we’re kind of like the enabler,” Pomerleau said. “We’re the ones that pays the 39 percent.”

Pomerleau also said that Standish taxpayers had dodged a bullet when a 2008 effort to construct a new school in Hollis failed.

“Sooner or later, there is going to be a school built in Hollis, and we are going to eat $5.5 million, and then you’ll really be here wondering where that $400,000 a year is going to come from,” Pomerleau said.

“We need to start looking at where our money’s being spent, and all this $25,000 is [is] taking a peek and seeing where our money could be best spent,” he said. “It’s not saying we’re going to get out and withdraw.”

“If you think $5 million is going to be a problem for you, how about $40 million for a new high school?” said Tedd Gifford, in response. “Twenty-five thousand dollars being spent on a useless study that’s going to come up with the fact that this is going to cost you more in taxes than it will to stay within the school system.”

Councilor John Sargent projected that, one way or the other, Standish residents should expect to fund a town school in the future, thanks to population growth.

“Sooner or later, folks, we’ll probably build our own school, because our numbers are growing,” Sargent said. “Our population’s growing. Are we going to save a lot of money? Probably not. Are we going to give our students the best education? That’s the question that this study will hopefully give us some numbers and some feedback [on].”

Resident Robert Deakin expressed disappointment that the council had initiated the town meeting in response to a Frye Island complaint.

“I feel disgust and shame with the Town Council,” Deakin said. “What happened 15 years ago? The town of Frye Island was created. The town of Frye Island has never cared doo-diddly-squat about our children. We know that. We expect more from you. We expect you not to align yourself with people who have never cared about our children and our school district.”


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