The long-discussed details of Freeport’s withdrawal from Regional School Unit 5 are now moot, and the district is back where it was when that debate began nine months ago – in need of a new superintendent and an upgrade to its high school.

Freeport decided Tuesday by a margin of 76 votes – less than 2 percent – to remain part of a consolidated district with Durham and Pownal.

That means members of the RSU 5 Board of Directors, which includes both advocates and opponents of withdrawal, will have to put their differences aside before proceeding with the superintendent search and renovation plan. But people on both sides say they believe the board members’ shared passion for quality education will prevail.

“We all want the same thing at the end of the day,” said Pete Murray, a school board member and chairman of the Freeport Withdrawal Committee. “I imagine that people will feel sore about it for a little bit, but we’ll work through it the best we can.”

Since the retirement of former Superintendent Shannon Welsh in June, retired Maine educators William Michaud and Michael Lafortune have been serving as co-interim superintendents. Neither plans to apply for the permanent position.

Michaud said the district intended to advertise for a new superintendent immediately after the vote Tuesday, but he held off in case there was a recount. Charly Haversat, a member of “Yes For Freeport,” a group favoring withdrawal, said it doesn’t plan to request one.

Haversat was one of two unsuccessful candidates for the school board Tuesday. The other was board Chairman Nelson Larkins, who stayed relatively neutral during the withdrawal debate. Elected to the board were incumbent Beth Parker, who was opposed to withdrawal, and newcomer Lindsay Sterling, who favored it.

Michaud plans to ask the board on Nov. 19 whether to hire a consultant to conduct the superintendent search or to do it in-house. He also will ask for permission to enter into a contract with PDT Architects to prepare plans for a $14.6 million Freeport High School renovation, which was approved by voters a year ago. The project would go to bid in June or July, and construction would start in fall 2015.

The renovation project caused the rift between Freeport and the two other towns in the district. Voters in Durham and Pownal twice rejected proposals to renovate the high school, but Freeport’s margin was big enough the second time to win approval.

Advocates for withdrawing from the district argued that Freeport needed more control over its own spending. Opponents worried that enrollment in Freeport schools would shrink and educational programs would suffer.

It wasn’t the first rift to split the three towns since they consolidated in 2009. Both Durham and Pownal have considered backing out of the district.

Rod Regier, a former Freeport Town Council chairman and an opponent of Freeport withdrawing from the district, is confident board members will be able to work together again.

“It’s happened before. It will happen now, because education is so important. We all know that,” he said.

Haversat said that it will take “leadership from all three communities stepping up,” especially during the difficult and complicated budget process.


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