RAYMOND — The state Department of Education has given preliminary approval to the town’s plan to withdraw from the Windham-Raymond School District.

RSU 14 and the Withdrawal Committee will now hold a series of public hearings and workshops on the town’s planned exit from the school district. The plan will go to voters in a referendum, likely in November, and if approved, the new Raymond district would be in place for the 2021-2022 school year.

The withdrawal agreement, approved by the state Aug. 14 after the town and RSU 14 signed off on it last month, establishes a K-8 district comprising Raymond Elementary School and Jordan-Small Middle School.

A draft of the Raymond district budget included in the agreement projects an expenditures and revenues for the 2021-2022 school year of about $11.4 million.

RSU 14 will transfer six buses and four vans to the new Raymond district and will continue to provide transportation to secondary students who live in Raymond but attend Windham High School.

Under the plan, Raymond students will still have their choice of high school that accepts their district tuition payment. About 80% of Raymond students now attend Windham High School, said RSU 14 Superintendent Chris Howell, and he expects that to continue.

Withdrawal Committee member and Selectman Rolf Olsen said a Sept. 3 public hearing will be an opportunity for residents to learn more about the details of the agreement and what a future Raymond school district will look like, including the costs involved.

Because of the pandemic, the hearing will be remote. Instructions on how to access and participate in the hearing are not yet available.

The Withdrawal Committee also will host a series of public workshops to address the concerns of residents.

“Now we’re at the point where we’ll have meetings with the public so that they can put out questions, get things answered, see what work has been done there, and what the plan is,” Olsen said.

If all runs smoothly, the Withdrawal Committee hopes to get the referendum question on the November ballot. If approved, Raymond will form a school board and hire a superintendent ahead of the new district’s July 2021 effective date.

Withdrawal proceedings began in June 2018 when the Raymond Selectboard voted to accept resident Teresa Sadak’s petition. The petition, which she began circulating the prior month, had 353 signatures.

The withdrawal committee was formed in October 2018 and has since met 11 times, six of which were executive sessions.

Olsen said that since Windham and Raymond schools consolidated in 2008, the district has been functioning as “two entities with some common administration.”

A previous effort to withdraw from RSU 14 in 2014 died after the cost-sharing issue at the center of the effort was resolved, Olsen said.

“Raymond is property-rich,” Olsen said, but added that it has a small population. “We’re not getting as equitable a share that way.”

Many of the same issues persist, from cost-sharing to what Olsen said are “issues of communication” between RSU 14 and the town of Raymond. The district “really wasn’t operating as an RSU. This way brings full control where our kids are back under a local school board.”

When voters approved starting the withdrawal process in August 2018, RSU 14 Board Chairman Janis Cummings told the Lakes Region Weekly that she was, “concerned about the time and effort this will take away from our primary focus: the education and safety of all the students of Windham and Raymond.”

Cummings, a Raymond resident and still board chairman said, “I was a teacher at (Raymond Elementary School) the last time we went through this, and you have no idea the added stress this imposes on all the staff.”

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