Chebeague Island voters OK budget, transition to Yarmouth schools; elect Maine, Johnson

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CHEBEAGUE ISLAND — Town Meeting on June 4 approved a $2.45 million budget for fiscal 2012, as well as the gradual transition of the town’s elementary students to Yarmouth schools.

The spending plan is an increase of $192 over the current year. The school portion is almost $886,000, a decrease of more than $2,000 from this year.

Voters ratified the school spending plan Tuesday in a referendum, 90-52.

Saturday’s Town Meeting also approved the town’s first Comprehensive Plan, elected Herb Maine to the Board of Selectman and re-elected School Board member Beverly Johnson.

Included in the budget for next year is the accelerated start of the transition of elementary school students to Yarmouth schools. Those students now attend Chebeague Island School until sixth grade, when they step up to Greely Middle School in Cumberland.

Chebeague’s 2007 secession agreement called for the town to send its middle and high school students to School Administrative District 51 through 2014; the town paid SAD 51 about $1.8 million in tuition up front.

With next year’s budget passed, Chebeague’s sixth-graders will be sent to Yarmouth in the upcoming school year. Sixth- and seventh-graders will make the transition in 2012-2013, followed by sixth- through eighth-graders in 2013-2014.

Every Chebeague student after fifth grade would be in Yarmouth by 2014-2015, except for a small number already at Greely High School, who can choose to remain there. SAD 51 agreed to grandfather those students.

Chebeague School Superintendent Alton Hadley said last month that the early transition will give Chebeague elementary students a chance to develop friendships and social contacts with a new group of youths, with whom they will attend middle and high school, and that Chebeague students would have a head start on acclimating to the Yarmouth curriculum.

Hadley also pointed out that the closer proximity of Chebeague to Yarmouth is a benefit. Students now travel from Chebeague to Yarmouth by ferry, and then to Cumberland.

Chebeague now sends 22 students to SAD 51, Hadley said. There will be only four sixth-graders to be sent to Yarmouth this fall. He said Yarmouth has agreed to freeze the tuition rate at about $8,700 a year.

Hadley said he expects the early transition will not increase Chebeague taxes in the first or second years, barring any significant unexpected expenses. But he said the third year is difficult to project, and that taxes could increase slightly.

He also noted that the town has money – which has not been spent in previous budgets and must be used for education – that will be used to fund the transition and offset any potential tax impact from the school budget.

Reduced policing

Chebeague residents at the approximately 2 1/2-hour Town Meeting also approved the elimination of winter police coverage.

Town Administrator Eric Dyer said last month that enforcement activity has been light that time of year, and that residents often know when the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office deputy is traveling to the island via ferry.

Although winter service is being discontinued, the funding will still be maintained in case the town wants to put it toward law enforcement. Service throughout the summer, when Chebeague’s population increases, will continue.

Chebeague will spend nearly $47,000 on law enforcement in fiscal 2012.

Although most of the meeting’s decisions were made by a show of hands, town officials were elected by written ballot after being nominated at Town Meeting.

Maine, a former selectman who was nominated for the board along with Selectman Donna Damon, whose three-year term is expiring, defeated her 62-36. Johnson faced no opposition for another three-year term on the School Board.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.