Durham selectmen get petition to leave Regional School Unit 5

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DURHAM — All 214 signatures on a petition to consider withdrawal from Regional School Unit 5 have been verified.

The petition, which was turned in to the town clerk last week, has the exact number of required signatures to go before the Board of Selectmen. According to town officials, the petition may be reviewed at the Oct. 20 board meeting and could go to referendum in April.

The number of signatures needed was 10 percent of the number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

The petition to withdraw from the Freeport-Durham-Pownal school district was circulated at the Durham Get & Go at 697 Royalsborough Road, and was turned in by Donna Church, the owner of the convenience store.

On Tuesday, Church said she didn’t create the petition and doesn’t know who did. She said it was left at the store.

Selectmen will next review the request and decide 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. 

According to Town Clerk Shannon Plourde, petition organizers missed the deadline for the Nov. 3 general election ballot. If passed by selectmen Oct. 20, the referendum would most likely be on the April 2016 ballot.

If the measure passes, the town will form a committee to look into withdrawal. The committee would create a withdrawal agreement, which could take several months to draft. Along the way, the committee would have to meet with the RSU 5 Board of Directors and with the Board of Selectmen. 

A withdrawal agreement would be sent to the Maine Department of Education for state approval. There would also be a public hearing before a referendum date would be set.

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

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.

Last year, Freeport considered withdrawal, but the town voted 2,228-2,152 to stay in the RSU. The process began the previous year when, in December, 2013 residents approved exploring withdrawal.

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.