WINTERVILLE, Maine — The 200 residents of this small northern Maine municipality are looking at significant property tax savings if they vote to withdraw from its school district.

Winterville residents are set to vote at referendum Jan. 5 whether or not to split from SAD 27, form its own school department and tuition its 22 students to SAD 27 schools, according to Dale Emery, chair of the Winterville Board of Selectmen.

On Monday Emery said the SAD 27 Board of Directors and Maine’s commissioner of education have already approved the withdrawal plan, a move he said comes down to tax savings.

“When looking at our municipal taxes, education represents the biggest part,” Emery said. “For us it’s 55 percent of our tax bill [and] you have got to try to look at everything you can to save money.”

A successful withdrawal from SAD 27 could mean a one mill drop in the Winterville tax rate, Emery said.

A mill in Winterville is worth $13.6 for every $1,000 of valuation.

According to Emery, residents contribute $400,000 in education funding toward the overall SAD 27 budget, and receive zero reimbursement from the state.

Winterville Plantation is assessed a high state valuation because most of its land is on the shores of St. Froid Lake. That waterfront property, while scenic, means the town receives no state funding for education, Emery said.

“We pay close to $15,000 per child attending SAD 27 schools,” Emery said. “That’s the highest rate in the district.”

The next lowest, he said, is the per-pupil cost in Eagle Lake of around $7,000.

Tuitioning students to SAD 27 schools means Winterville would pay roughly $7,300 for each elementary student and $10,200 for each high school student, based on current state mandated tuition rates.

Winterville also would pay for all costs associated with transporting students to the schools and for special education and administrative expenses.

All told, Emery said, the municipality is looking at about $90,000 in annual savings.

“It’s worth doing, he said.

According to district officials, residents of the other SAD 27 members towns — Fort Kent, St. Francis, St. John Plantation, Wallagrass, Eagle Lake and New Canada — can expect to see an increase in local taxes should Winterville withdraw.

Tim Doak, SAD 27 superintendent, said this fall it was inevitable some costs would shift to the other member towns.

On Monday, Doak said he estimates the overall loss to his district of about $160,000 if Winterville splits off.

“Right now it is a Winterville thing,” Doak said late Monday afternoon. “We are sitting in the back seat waiting to see what happens.”

For the last fiscal year, Winterville taxpayers contributed $13,809 in local funds per pupil attending school in SAD 27, according to figures supplied by the district’s financial office. Elsewhere in SAD 27, the local cost per student is $7,698 in Eagle Lake, $6,045 in St. Francis, $5,326 in Wallagrass, $5,314 in New Canada, $4,438 in St. John Plantation and $3,782 in Fort Kent.

“It’s a bit early to say what we are going to do with the budget if Winterville is successful in withdrawing,” Doak said. “But taking Winterville out of the formula is not going to help.”

At the same time Doak said, the district is currently negotiating with three collective bargaining units. Also, the overall SAD 27 student population — on which the state bases funding amounts — is shrinking.

“Things don’t look good for the budget going in,” he said.

Nothing will change from the students’ point of view, Emery said.

Under the negotiated tuition agreement, Winterville students in pre-K through grade five will continue to attend Eagle Lake Elementary School while middle and high school students will still travel to Fort Kent.

Should voters approve the withdrawal, Emery said, they will next need to elect a school board which will then hire a superintendent.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.