Two contradictory reports on the possible financial impacts of Freeport withdrawing from Regional School Unit 5 are intensifying debate as town voters get ready to decide the question at the polls Tuesday.

A study by the Freeport Withdrawal Committee contends the town might save money by becoming its own school district. An alternative analysis by a group of former Town Council chairmen argues it would almost certainly lose a lot.

Meanwhile, groups have formed on each side of the issue – “Yes for Freeport,” which supports withdrawal, and “We’re Better Together,” which opposes it.

Signs favoring both sides have cropped up all over town – a drastic increase in activity from two months ago, when just a handful of people spoke at the first public hearing on the withdrawal vote.

“There’s definitely a raging debate and people are intensely interested to hear both sides of the story,” said Kristina Egan, adding that she’s the only member of the Freeport Town Council opposed to withdrawing from the district.

“It’s what’s talked about on the football field and soccer field and at PTO meetings,” she said.

Peter Murray, chairman of the Freeport Withdrawal Committee, said people are “hot under the collar” about the issue.

“Freeport’s in the middle of a debate with itself right now,” he said.

The Withdrawal Committee, which presented its financial analysis in September using figures from the 2013-2014 school year, suggests the town would have saved nearly $300,000 as a stand-alone district that year, assuming all of the students from Durham and Pownal, the other two towns in the district, decided to attend Freeport schools and pay tuition.

But if 60 students from Durham and Pownal – about a third of the students from those towns that now attend Freeport High School – had decided to go elsewhere, the town would have lost about $344,000 in revenue, the analysis contends.

In response to the committee’s presentation, three former town councilors decided to do their own number-crunching, using figures from the current 2014-15 budget, which is $1.4 million higher than last year’s budget.

Their analysis shows the town would lose about $274,000 this year as a standalone district if all the students from the two other towns continued attending Freeport schools, and about $907,000 if 60 of them left.

Rod Regier, who came up with this analysis along with fellow former councilor chairmen Ed Bradley and Fred Palmer, said the group didn’t go into the process looking for a certain outcome. They simply thought the withdrawal committee’s analysis was too narrow, he said.

Murray said the Town Council asked the withdrawal committee to base its analysis on a year in which it had actual figures of “what services were provided to students from which towns.”

Although the withdrawal committee’s study only shows what would have happened had Freeport been a standalone district last year, he said, the other group’s analysis includes more assumptions, because it’s not based on actual spending for a full school year.

Regardless, Murray said, residents shouldn’t be looking only at the analyses for direction.

“The numbers will work themselves out,” he said. “The real story is about the governance and the vision for the school district and what role education plays in the town of Freeport.”

Murray said withdrawing from the district would allow for “aligning the vision of the school system with the town,” rather than “to priorities that are more diffuse” as part of a regional school system.

Regier agreed that the real issue is education, but said his group’s analysis shows that withdrawing from the district would do the most harm to the quality of education.

He acknowledges that his group used spending projections, including the cost of special education, the federal reimbursement for free and reduced lunch and the tuition for Durham and Pownal students to attend Freeport schools.

However, he believes using the projections for the current school year paints a more accurate picture than using solid figures from the past – and that picture shows Freeport would have to raise taxes or cut programs if it withdraws from the school district.

“There really is a lot at stake here,” he said.

 


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