FREEPORT – A budget plan for a stand-alone Freeport school unit is not required by the state to be part of the RSU Withdrawal Committee’s charge, but some Freeport residents believe that such a budget plan will be essential information when voters decide later this year if they want to leave Regional School Unit 5.

Town Councilor Sarah Tracy and school board members Valy Steverlynck and Beth Parker are among them. Tracy addressed the issue during the Withdrawal Committee’s public hearing on Feb. 6, attended by about 20 people at the Town Hall.

Tracy said that voters will base their decisions on the educational quality a stand-alone school unit would offer Freeport students and the costs.

The Withdrawal Committee was formed after Freeport residents voted Dec. 17 to study the issue of leaving the district.

The committee must develop a Freeport school budget “built from the bottom up,” Tracy said. She acknowledged that the budget is not required by the state Department of Education, which will oversee the negotiations between the Withdrawal Committee and the Working Group, which consists of school board members from Durham and Pownal.

“But it’s critical information,” Tracy said. “It will hold weight.”

Tracy suggested that they use some of the $50,000 the town has provided to the committee to help develop that budget.

“I strongly urge you to develop the implementation of a budget into your work plan,” she said.

The committee plans to use most of that money to hire a lawyer, who will help the committee through the process. Committee member Rich DeGrandpre said later the lawyer probably would develop a stand-alone budget as part of his or her duties.

Joe Migliaccio, a former town councilor, said there is a spending model for the previous Freeport school district on the town’s website. Freeport was a stand-alone school district until 2009, when it joined with Durham and Pownal to form RSU 5.

Prior to the public hearing, Town Manager Peter Joseph went through the 22-step statutory process required by the Department of Education for withdrawal from a school unit. If the negotiations aren’t settled by the end of the year, he pointed out, a two-thirds vote of Freeport residents instead of a majority will be necessary for withdrawal.

Migliaccio said he hopes there is no “heel-dragging” in the negotiations that might delay the vote until next year, because such inaction would be divisive. All four members of the Withdrawal Committee voted in favor of the town exploring withdrawal on Dec. 17.

Committee Chairman Peter Murray told the audience that the committee supposedly has 90 days to negotiate the withdrawal – subject to state approval – which in this case would be April 14. The commissioner of education typically fine-tunes the agreement, and has 60 days to respond to it, he said.

“No committee of this nature in this state has met this 90-day deadline, that I know of,” Murray said.

Joseph said that he and other members of the town staff would assist the committee. Some “back-and-forth” between the committee and the commissioner is possible, he said.

Joseph added that Nov. 4 is the next date for a statewide election, and that is the target date for a final Freeport withdrawal vote.

Also last week, the RSU Working Group held the second of two public hearings at the Durham Community School. Chairwoman Michelle Ritcheson of Durham said at the Feb. 3 meeting that the entire RSU board, with the exception of Murray, will vote on the final plan that will be submitted to the commissioner.

“The plan has to be an agreement between the Withdrawal Committee and the school board, and until it is, the commissioner won’t even take a look at it,” Ritcheson said.

Ritcheson said that the education of students, finances, distribution of RSU 5 assets and employee matters related to collective bargaining all are issues to be addressed.

The big question, she said, is where RSU 5 students would attend classes if Freeport leaves. Currently, Pownal students attend Freeport Middle School and Freeport High School. Durham Community School goes through eighth grade, so Durham students only need Freeport for a high school.

“At a minimum, they can stay in their current schools from a year of the withdrawal date,” Ritcheson said. “Any sophomore is guaranteed to be able to graduate from Freeport High School.”

Ritcheson added that school choice for RSU 5 students is not a guarantee. Capacity, transportation and other factors must be weighed, she said.

The Working Group has been in touch with the Brunswick School Department and School Administrative District 51 of Cumberland, she said. A Brunswick arrangement would be by tuition only, while SAD 51 might be willing to offer a broader arrangement, she said. Yarmouth schools are another option, she said.

A CLOSER LOOK

The Working Group also met this past Monday night at Durham Community School, and plans a Feb. 24 meeting at Pownal Elementary School, beginning at 6:15.

Upcoming meetings of the RSU Withdrawal Committee: Feb. 13, 6:30 p.m., Freeport High School; Feb. 27, 6:30 p.m., Freeport High School; March 5, 6:30 p.m., joint meeting with RSU 5 Working Group, Freeport High School; March 6, 6:30, location to be determined.

Kevin Nadeau, a member of the Durham Advisory Committee, gestures as he answers a question during a meeting of the RSU Working Group, held on Feb. 3 at Durham Community School. The Durham Advisory Committee is helping the RSU Working Group, which consists of school board members from Durham and Pownal, in negotiations with the RSU Withdrawal Committee regarding Freeport’s possible withdrawal from Regional School Unit 5.  


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