A withdrawal panel is now looking for school to accept middle- and high schoolers.

Members of the Sebago school withdrawal committee say they are intent on withdrawing from School Administrative District 61, despite their stated intentions earlier in the process to negotiate staying within the district.

Lisa Johnson, a member of the Sebago withdrawal committee, said members are focusing their efforts on identifying a school of guaranteed acceptance for their middle- and high-school students to attend when the town is no longer part of SAD  61, which includes Bridgton, Casco and Naples.

Al Smith, district superintendent, said he hopes Sebago residents will ultimately decide to stay part of the district. Any withdrawal agreement approved by the committee and district will still need to be approved by at least two-thirds of Sebago voters, according to the 22-step process for withdrawal outlined by the state.

Sebago residents vote 335-58 in February to pursue withdrawal from the school district. Residents cited the perceived threat of closure of their local elementary school as one of the most important reasons for pursuing withdrawal.

According Smith, the school’s Board of Directors has not discussed closing Sebago Elementary School.

Following the vote to pursue withdrawal, the town drew together a four-person withdrawal committee to negotiate with the district.

At the time the town approved starting the withdrawal process, Sebago officials said pursuing withdrawal was a means for gaining leverage to negotiate with the district. The intent, they said, was to negotiate a better position within the district, including a guarantee that Sebago Elementary School would remain open for an unspecified number of years.

But at a meeting Oct. 27, committee members Johnson, Richard Merritt, Tim Mayberry and Joseph McMahon told the public they were done trying to negotiate with the district. They said the district has ignored their requests to negotiate their remaining within the district.

In the spring, following Sebago’s vote to withdraw, the committee presented the district with a list of negotiation points, including asking the district guarantee Sebago Elementary would remain open for 20 (later dropped to 10) years.

To the district, the proposal came across more like “a list of demands” than a negotiation tactic, according to Smith.

“I don’t believe the board viewed (those negotiations) as they did,” Smith said. “It was misconstrued on both parts, which is unfortunate. Hopefully we’ve moved past that.”

The two committees met once formally during the summer months; the meeting, according to officials on both sides, did not go well. Since then, have been meeting separately and communicating almost entirely through written proposals, they said.

The withdrawal committee is now in the process of identifying options for schools of guaranteed acceptance for the Sebago students. Should they withdraw from SAD 61, Sebago intends to continue to educate kindergarten through fifth-graders at their local elementary school on Route 114. However, they need another public school in the region to guarantee acceptance for their sixth- through twelfth-grade students.

The withdrawal committee has approached Gorham Schools and School Administrative District 6 (Bonny Eagle), according to officials at both districts.

The latest of five counter-proposals from the school district is expected to be made public next week, following review by the withdrawal committee earlier this week.

The withdrawal proposals will outline, among other things, Sebago’s responsibilities in terms of financing and providing education for their students, and division of finances and assets between Sebago and Lake Region.

The earliest possible date for Sebago withdrawal is June 2018. Sebago residents would have to vote in favor of withdrawal and finalize the withdrawal process before Nov. 30, 2017, in order to withdraw by 2018.

The withdrawal committee does not yet have figures regarding whether withdrawing from the district would result in financial gain, loss or a wash for Sebago.

Paula Gravelle, school finance coordinator at the state Department of Education, said in January that while towns often think they’ll be better off financially if they withdraw, this is “not necessarily the case in most places, and education suffers if towns go on their own.”

Members of Sebago’s school withdrawal committee say they are no longer looking to negotiate staying with School Administrative District 61, in part because the district will not guarantee their elementary school to stay open for another 10 years. Sebago Elementary School, above, is located on Route 114 and serves approximately 75 students.