Editor’s note: The Tri-Town Weekly asked each side of the withdrawal debate to provide an explanation of its position. This represents the pro-withdrawal point of view.

On Election Day, Nov. 4, we have the opportunity to bring back local schools for Freeport. We believe this decision has advantages for students, teachers, parents and taxpayers. With tuition agreements in place for the next decade, we can move forward with our neighbors and create the system our kids deserve while preserving our sense of community.

This is a great town. We’re different from Falmouth or Yarmouth, and we’re proud of that. We have a vibrant downtown, and we have farms. We have commuters heading into Portland every day, and we have people who make their living from the sea. We have the history of a place like Pettingill Farm and the future of the headquarters and logistics hub of an Internet retail giant. We’re a unique place, and these unique qualities helped shape our schools.

Enabled by great teachers, strong technology and solid leadership, Freeport emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s as a school system making its mark in Maine. Families began to move here to be part of our community, and as a result we have seen a population growth rather than the demographic shift and population decline that has struck much of the rest of Maine.

Unfortunately, all of this good work and momentum ran into a wall that was not of our making. Built with the best of intentions, this wall applied a one-size-fits-all approach to Freeport that just doesn’t work.

Several years ago, we were forced to give up our local schools under threat from a flawed directive from Augusta. The state applied a cookie-cutter solution to a complex problem. As a result, districts were created for the sake of satisfying a mandate as opposed to making financial and educational sense. Freeport received nothing from the state in return for consolidating, instead we face having to pay locally for the capital cost of expanding our high school. Consolidated districts were told that they would gain advantages in the state school building funding formula, but, truth be told, RSU 5 never had a chance of receiving funding for its buildings from the state.

Maine funds public education in a shared manner, with a percentage coming from the state and a percentage coming from local taxes. The ratio of state to local money is based largely on property values. Freeport is a high-value, coastal community and received little from the state. As such, Freeport was insulated against cuts in state funding. Durham and Pownal have historically been assigned lower values and received a much larger percentage of their education dollars from the state, but around the time of consolidation this changed. Pownal and Durham saw state funding slashed due to a marked increase in their state valuation.

RSU 5 was created with a poison pill – tax increases in Pownal and Durham were unavoidable given the valuation changes. While we cannot speak for these towns, it seems almost certain that these property tax increases have driven the almost universal “no” votes on RSU budget items for the past five years. The situation does not look much brighter in the near future, especially once the 20-year cost of the high school expansion is added on top of all the other burdens faced by these communities.

Due to the artificial construct of the district and the $15 million expansion required for our high school, RSU 5 was never going to make financial sense. A tuition partnership with our neighbors provides a fairer and sustainable solution to this challenge rather than simply out-voting our neighbors at every election. We are confident that Freeport schools will draw students from Pownal, Durham and the region. Freeport is a great town with great schools, and with local control, we’ll just get better.

On Nov. 4, Freeporters will vote on the withdrawal agreement unanimously accepted by RSU 5 board members from all three towns, approved by the Department of Education and supported by six of the seven Freeport Town Councilors. This is an opportunity to restore our local schools and bring back the friendly partnerships we had with our neighboring towns. Rather than endlessly arguing about money and governance, we can remove those points of contention and turn the discussion back to creating opportunities for our students and communities.

Everyone in Freeport wants what’s best for kids. As members of the Withdrawal Committee, we have worked hard to keep their best interests in mind. Please visit the town’s web site at http://freeportmaine.com and click on the link to the withdrawal committee. We have made every effort to present an unbiased look at the data and facts around this issue and welcome your review.

By members of the Withdrawal Committee: Richard DeGrandpre, Dennis King, Peter Murray, N. Kate Werner.


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