Durham begins another campaign to leave Regional School Unit 5

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DURHAM — A petition to consider withdrawal from Regional School Unit 5 has the required number of signatures to go before the Board of Selectmen.

Town Clerk Shannon Plourde still has to verify names before the document is notarized and passed on to selectmen. Plourde said there’s a chance the petition may be invalid if all the signatures aren’t from registered Durham voters. 

The petition contains 214 signatures, the exact number needed to move it forward, which is 10 percent of the number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

 It is unclear who created the petition to withdraw from the Freeport-Durham-Pownal school district.

“It’s being circulated at the Durham Get & Go, but we don’t know who started it,” Plourde said.

Donna Church, owner of the convenience store at 697 Royalsborough Road, did not return a phone call seeking more information.

Once the petition is before the board, selectmen will review it and vote on whether the question will be sent to voters.

Residents would vote on whether they want to form a committee to explore withdrawing from the RSU, and on how much money the town should spend on the effort.

Plourde said she’s not sure when the petition will go before the board.

She said the creator of the petition missed the deadline for the Nov. 3 general election ballot, so a special election will have to be held if the board sends the decision to voters.

Durham previously explored withdrawal from RSU 5 in 2012, but the measure was defeated 1,718-650. The budget to explore withdrawal that time would have been up to $50,000.

Last year, Freeport considered withdrawal, but the town voted 2,228-2,152 to stay in the RSU.

Nelson Larkins, chairman of the RSU 5 Board of Directors, this week said the board is aware of the Durham petition, but won’t be taking any immediate action.

“I would suggest that the board not take a position on this,” he said. “It wouldn’t need to be on any upcoming agenda.”

Larkins wouldn’t say how he felt about the petition, but said Durham residents are free to do what they want.

“If they want to push it forward, that’s their right to do so,” he said.

Over the past few years, both Durham and Pownal residents have rejected the RSU 5 budget. Freeport’s larger number of voters have carried the budget through each year. This year’s budget of more than $29.4 million was rejected in Durham, 376-142, and in Pownal 204-117, but was approved by Freeport 917-378.

Durham saw a tax increase of 8.71 percent this year, to $1.45 per $1,000 of assessed value, because of the school budget. Large tax increases are common in Durham and Pownal, while less so in Freeport, because of state valuation.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.
  • Phil Blanchard

    The reason for consolidating school districts was so that Durham, with no High School, could finally become part of a community. Raymond shot down a similar proposal last year, as did Durham recently, because there was no other option for such a small town that has refused to provide for secondary education throughout its history. I have yet to hear of a proposal to merge with Lisbon Schools, which would really make the most sense as both towns are in Androscoggin County.