CLUSTERING AT INTERSECTIONS and scattered along roadsides, election signs have proliferated in Freeport from groups on both sides of the withdrawal question. Better Together is a citizen group that favors a “No” vote to keep RSU 5 intact, while Yes for Freeport favors a “Yes” vote on Nov. 4 for withPlease drawal.

CLUSTERING AT INTERSECTIONS and scattered along roadsides, election signs have proliferated in Freeport from groups on both sides of the withdrawal question. Better Together is a citizen group that favors a “No” vote to keep RSU 5 intact, while Yes for Freeport favors a “Yes” vote on Nov. 4 for withPlease drawal.

FREEPORT

With one week left until Freeport residents vote to determine if the town will remain with Durham and Pownal in Regional School Unit 5 or strike out as a new standalone district, alternate analyses attempt to predict the financial impact of a Yes or No vote.

The withdrawal question, Question 1 on the Nov. 4 election ballot, reads: “Do you favor the withdrawal of the town of Freeport from the Regional School Unit 5 subject to the terms and conditions of the withdrawal agreement dated Aug. 25, 2014.”

If residents vote “Yes,” Freeport will exit the RSU on June 30, 2015, and be a standalone district for the 2015-16 school year.

The Freeport Withdrawal Committee, which negotiated the withdrawal agreement with the RSU 5 Work Group, and Freeport Financial Director Abbe Yacoben were tasked by the town council with drafting an analysis of the potential cost of operating a standalone Freeport school district.

Using the terms of the withdrawal agreement and the RSU’s 2013-14 budget, per the town council’s request, the group estimated that Freeport could have operated with a savings of $288,876 over the 2013-14 school year — if all Durham and Pownal students that attended Freeport schools that year had paid tuition to a Freeport school district.

During that school year, there were 53 elementary students and 185 secondary students in RSU 5 from Durham and Pownal.

The total tuition for those students, based on the rates for that year, would have been $448,320 for elementary students and $1,950,425 for secondary students. Tuition rates for the 2015-16 school year are not yet available.

In a tuition contract supplementary to the withdrawal agreement, RSU 5 agrees to send 60 tuitioned students to Freeport High School or to pay the equivalent tuition, whichever is greater. The contract, however, is non-binding until brought to a referendum vote in the remaining RSU towns.

With the question of enrollment unanswered, estimates range broadly concerning what tuition revenue a withdrawn Freeport could expect to receive from Durham and Pownal students who could then choose to attend Brunswick High School or other regional schools.

Former town councilors Rod Regier, Ed Bradley and Fred Palmer used the same methodology to draft a separate financial analysis, but applied it to the 2014-15 RSU 5 budget, which showed an increase of $1.4 million over the previous year’s budget.

“There is an increase in salary for teachers, there is more faculty and, for the first time, there is tuition paid to charter schools” in the 2014-15 budget, said Regier in a Monday phone interview with The Times Record. “By using the 2013- 14 budget, it pretends that those changes didn’t happen.

“If you use this year’s budget, using all the same assumptions,” he said, “you start at a quarter of a million dollars in the hole with the low estimate and end up $900,000 in the hole with the high one.”

Figuring in the budgetary increase, the analysis provided by Regier, Bradley and Palmer estimates that operating as a standalone Freeport school district would have increased the tax burden by $274,000 in 2014-15, even if all Durham and Pownal students that attended Freeport schools that year had tuitioned in.

If Freeport had lost the tuition revenue of 60 students from the RSU, they estimate Freeport’s tax burden would have increased roughly $907,000 in 2014-15.

“We estimated one additional piece, which the other analysis didn’t, which was to try to make some estimate of what the cost savings would be with 60 fewer students,” said Regier. “We estimated there could be roughly $300,000 in savings.”

Factoring in those savings, said Regier, the increased tax burden could have been approximately $612,000 as a standalone district.

The withdrawal committee’s analysis estimated that the loss of 60 tuition students in 2013-14 could have increased Freeport’s tax burden by $343,695, but the figure did not account for a reduction in the expenses without those students.

“It bothers me that there are some fairly big upfront costs that are not being talked about,” said Regier. “These variables present a range of possible estimates, not one fixed number.”

Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, Freeport agrees to a single cash payment of $361,520 for excess capital improvement to the RSU within 90 days of withdrawal, said Regier, which is a figure not included in budgetary analyses.

Additionally, to maintain Freeport’s current bond rating, the town may have to put approximately $350,000 in reserves, said Regier, which he said is a standard requirement of rating agencies.

“Freeport enjoys a really good bond rating, which means we can borrow less expensively than many other towns in the state,” said Regier. “If the school system is absorbed into the town budget — there will be about $350,000 more in cash that bond rating agencies will require we keep in reserve.

“It’s real money, it’s raised by taxpayers,” he added, “but it can’t be touched.”

Town officials have developed a tax impact calculator tool for residents to estimate the effect different withdrawal financial scenarios could have on their property taxes. The impact calculator is available on the town website at www.freeportmaine.com.

The complete withdrawal agreement is available on the Freeport Withdrawal Committee website at www.freeportwc.org.

Polls will be open Nov. 4 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the gym at Freeport High School, located at 30 Holbrook St.


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