Freeport to discuss withdrawing from RSU 5

Posted July 02, 2013, at 12:35 p.m.

FREEPORT, Maine — Residents’ requests to investigate withdrawal from Regional School Unit 5 will be addressed at a public workshop July 9.

Town Manager Peter Joseph emphasized that no formal petition to leave RSU 5 has been circulated, only that he has spoken to several residents who favor that action.

The unrest stems from the June 11 referendum vote in which voters from Durham and Pownal outweighed Freeport’s support for a proposed $16.9 million renovation and expansion at Freeport High School.

Freeport voters backed the project solidly: 1,623 to 902. But it went down in Durham 828-287 and Pownal residents defeated the bond referendum by a 472-118 margin. The renovation plan lost districtwide by only 174 votes: 2,202 to 2,028.

“People are seeing that there’s basically a difference in viewpoints,” Joseph said. “Freeport wanted the renovation and addition fairly solidly.”

Joseph said it would take signatures from 10 percent of Freeport’s registered voters to bring any move to withdraw from RSU 5 to a townwide vote. The process would begin at the town level and then, if voters approved it, would go back to RSU 5 for internal negotiations.

RSU 5, he said, is meanwhile in the process of rethinking terms of the bond package. Many people who voted against the package objected to money being spent on an athletic track and fields, Joseph said.

The RSU 5 Board of Directors has authorized a $5,000 poll — to be completed this summer — designed to determine voters’ reasons for objecting to the Freeport High project. Board Chairman Nelson Larkins of Freeport said Monday the survey of voters in all three towns will be done by phone.

“We’re looking for possible variations — what they might vote for or against in the future,” Larkins said.

Larkins pointed out that last year, Durham residents circulated a petition that prompted a townwide vote on withdrawal from RSU 5. In the end, when residents learned more details, they voted against such a move.

“The town wants residents to have the information first,” Larkins said.

Freeport High School, built in 1961, has undergone four additions.

“It’s not appropriate for the board to take a position on this,” Larkins said. “But the school is still undersized, and outdated in parts.”

The public workshop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. July 9 at the Freeport Town Hall.

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