FREEPORT, Maine — Citing frustration with “a marriage that isn’t working,” residents asked councilors Tuesday to explore removing the town from Regional School Unit 5.
Residents were reacting to a $27 million school budget validation and $17 million expansion and renovation of Freeport High School both opposed June 11 by voters in Durham and Pownal.
Voters in the two smaller communities rejected both the budget and the high school upgrades, fearing dramatically higher property tax increases. The budget passed districtwide, but the depth of opposition to the rehab plan sank it.
Marianne Doyle of Sherwood Drive told councilors Tuesday the financial benefits and educational advances promised in the consolidation of RSU 5 have not been realized. She asked that they put together a committee to explore withdrawal.
“We’re in a dysfunctional school unit where towns are pitted against each other every year,” Doyle said. “It’s not fair to our towns or to our kids’ advantage to continue this consolidated school unit in a state of perpetual conflict.”
Numerous other secessionists followed her to the podium.
Several referred to creation of a petition to withdraw and “taking back control” of their schools.
Freeport resident and RSU 5 board of directors member Peter Murray cautioned against making a hasty decision based on emotion.
The board currently is considering a second, less extensive renovation bond for November, and Murray said starting a withdrawal process now could further delay — or outright scuttle — repairs needed at the aging, overcrowded high school.
“If a petition to withdraw is circulated, then it ends up by law requiring that a public vote be taken,” Murray said.
Freeport’s potential secession follows a similar process undertaken by Durham in 2012.
However, that town’s exploratory committee found it would cost almost $1 million more each year to function as a standalone school. Voters last November rejected the withdrawal.
Councilors set the item for further discussion during their July 19 meeting.