CHERRYFIELD, Maine — Voters in Cherryfield overwhelmingly approved their town’s withdrawal from RSU 37 on Tuesday.
Town Clerk Mona West explained Thursday that the withdrawal needed to be approved by a two-thirds margin but was actually approved by 88 percent of those voting. The final tally was 259 for withdrawal and 38 against.
Art Tatangelo, who is chairman of the board of selectmen and served on the withdrawal committee, said the vote was the culmination of years of strong community support for a local school.
“Cherryfield has been voting to keep its school — at great extra expense — for the past eight years,” Tatangelo said Thursday. Two different years, he said, taxpayers had to ante up an extra $400,000 and then $300,000 to keep its school up and running.
Tatangelo said the vote went across all generations. “It was not just people with kids in school,’’ he said. Tatangelo said he believes the state will see many more small communities withdrawing from large school districts. “There was such a big push for consolidation and larger districts,” he said. “But we are seeing such a disconnect there. The smaller, local system is much tighter and effective.”
In 2012, the first year withdrawal from consolidated districts was allowed under state law, 38 towns began the process of leaving their school districts. Six completed the withdrawal process and brought the issue to a community vote. Five succeeded, including Frankfort, Glenburn, Veazie, Starks and Portage Lake, according to the Maine Department of Education. St. George in Waldo County withdrew from its district earlier this month.
Tatangelo said that the 2013-2014 budget for RSU 37 has not been made final but that early projections indicate Cherryfield could save between $50,000 and $100,000 annually by paying for its own school. “There will be absolutely no increase in taxation,’’ he said. He said the town’s annual school cost would be approximately $694,000 this year, but those figures are not final.
The process for withdrawal has been underway since last year, he explained.
“We are now on a fast track,” he said. Nomination papers have been returned by four candidates and a fifth has indicated his intent to be a write-in candidate for five Cherryfield school board positions. Voting will be held May 29.
Tatangelo said Cherryfield has a verbal agreement with the Jonesport/Beals school system to provide central office services for one year. Cherryfield will also have to hire its own superintendent. “We will be keeping all teachers, keeping our principal,” he said. “There are no changes planned in existing staff.”
SAD 37 is based in Harrington and serves students from Addison, Cherryfield, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Harrington and Milbridge. It contains 722 students, including 105 at Cherryfield Elementary School. Cherryfield’s high school students will continue to attend Narraguagus High School in Harrington on a tuitioned basis.
Tatangelo was a member of Cherryfield’s four-person withdrawal committee that met for months after the April 30 referendum to negotiate a state-mandated withdrawal agreement with SAD 37. That agreement was approved by both parties in January.
“It was just like a divorce, in terms of dividing up assets,” Tatangelo told the BDN in March. “Cherryfield owns no educational assets, but it does own the physical plant of the school. It was a process that ensured that contracts and other obligations were honored and ensured good educational continuity for the students.”
SAD 37 Superintendent Ronald Ramsay could not be reached Thursday. He said in a March interview, however, that though SAD 37 would save some money by not having the operational costs of Cherryfield Elementary, the savings would not cover the lost state revenue for students.