Frye Island cannot withdraw from its school district without special legislation authorizing it to do so, the state’s top court has decided.

The ruling is a blow to the seasonal island town in its long-running dispute with Maine School Administrative District 6. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in the case in December and issued a ruling Tuesday.

“For nearly twenty years, Frye Island has endeavored to withdraw from MSAD 6,” the ruling says. “This is the latest chapter in that long saga.”

The Sebago Lake island community seceded from Standish in 1997. It remained a part of MSAD 6, but it does not send any students to district schools. Still, the residents pay school taxes every year based on property values, and that funding has been disputed for years.

Frye Island 2015 staff photo by Gabe Souza

Two years ago, Frye Island voters approved a ballot measure to begin the withdrawal process from Bonny Eagle school district. However, the district has argued that state law specifically bars Frye Island from leaving.

Frye Island is the only town in Maine specifically prevented by state statute from leaving its school district, a provision imposed after the town seceded from Standish. But the town argues that prohibition is both unconstitutional and no longer in effect.

The Cumberland County Superior Court sided with the district, and the town appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Associate Justice Thomas Humphrey wrote the 25-page ruling, which was unanimous among the five justices who participated in the decision. They agreed that Frye Island would need to have legislative approval to begin the withdrawal process outlined in state law for all towns.

“L.D. 500 expressly denies Frye Island the ability to withdraw from MSAD 6 without first seeking and obtaining authorization from the Legislature; Frye Island cannot do an end-run around a validly enacted private and special law by purporting to repeal it through a charter amendment,” the ruling says.

While most Maine school districts assess member communities based on the number of students enrolled, SAD 6 uses property valuation as the basis for determining how much each community contributes to education costs. Frye Island – a seasonal community of more than 500 homes and fewer than 200 registered voters – contributed more than $1.5 million to the school district in the 2017-18 school year.

SAD 6 also includes the towns of Buxton, Hollis, Limington and Standish.

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