Durham to vote in April on whether to explore leaving Regional School Unit 5

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DURHAM — Residents will decide whether to explore withdrawing from Regional School Unit 5 at Town Meeting next April.

The Board of Selectmen on Oct. 20 approved holding the vote at the annual Town Meeting, after receiving a withdrawal petition from residents. The petition, which contained 239 signatures, was certified by the town clerk earlier this month.

At last week’s meeting, the board noted that 13 duplicate signatures were found, bringing the correct number of signatures to 226. The number of signatures needed was 214, or 10 percent of the number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

The board decided to set a date for the vote, but sent the petition back to the town clerk to be reviewed more closely and then re-certified. On Monday, Town Clerk Shannon Plourde said the petition had been re-certified and still includes enough valid signatures.

The petition to withdraw from the Freeport-Durham-Pownal school district was circulated at the Durham Get & Go at 697 Royalsborough Road. It was turned in by Donna Church, who owns the convenience store, but said she doesn’t know who started the drive.

Plourde, selectmen and members of the RSU 5 board have also said they don’t know who is responsible for the petition.

The vote will be taken at Town Meeting because selectmen said special elections, which cost $1,000 to hold, usually have low voter turnout. The petition was turned in too late to be included as a referendum question on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Residents will 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. 

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.

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.

Before the vote at the April Town Meeting takes place, the Durham Board of Selectmen will hold a public hearing on the issue.

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.