FRANKFORT, Maine — Voters here decided Tuesday night by comfortable margins to withdraw from RSU 20 and close Frankfort Elementary School.
With 67 percent of the community’s registered voters weighing in at the polls, 74 percent voted in favor of withdrawing from the nine-town midcoast school district. Fifty-eight percent, or 317 people, voted to close the elementary school.
“It looks like we’re ready to move forward,” Gabe Baker, the withdrawal committee chairman for Frankfort, said Wednesday morning. “I was really hoping that we would see a drastic say, one way or another. I hoped that the school closure margin would be greater, but it’s a very emotional decision.”
Some Frankfort residents, including Baker, have been working for more than a year and a half to leave the town’s current district and join SAD 22 to the north.
RSU 20 is made up of Belfast, Belmont, Frankfort, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont, Searsport, Stockton Springs and Swanville. SAD 22 is made up of Hampden, Newburgh and Winterport.
According to Baker, the next step will be for Frankfort officials to negotiate with SAD 22 and develop a draft plan that would bring the four towns together into one region.
“You’re not just adding one town — we’ll be becoming a new RSU,” he said.
The towns will have to develop a cost-sharing model, a budget and establish a new school board charter that will assign weighted voting values to the towns. After this is done, voters in each of the four communities will have to go to a public hearing on the plan, he said.
RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter said that the vote to withdraw didn’t come as a surprise, but the loss of Frankfort — and its estimated $1.4 million in state school subsidies — still will be a hardship to the cash-strapped district.
“Any loss of money is going to be a blow in these economic times,” he said.
Most of the beleaguered school district’s other member communities, including Belfast, are working on their own withdrawal plans, but Carpenter said the daily school business must continue.
“RSU 20 is still functioning for this year and next. That’s my job,” he said.
Beginning July 1, 2013, all students from Frankfort will have the choice for a year of attending either an RSU 20 school or an SAD 22 school. They will not be able to stay at Frankfort Elementary School, as that will close.
Then starting in 2014, if students had begun at Searsport District High School they will be able to graduate from there. All other Frankfort students will attend schools in SAD 22, he said.
“We tried to find a solution that worked for everybody,” Baker said. “Of course, it’s impossible to find a solution that would work for every single family.”