Durham voters defeat proposal to leave RSU 5

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FREEPORT — By a nearly 3-1 margin, Durham voters on Tuesday shot down a measure to withdraw from Regional School Unit 5.

The vote was 1,718 against the proposal, 650 in favor.

The approval would have authorized the town to spend $50,000 to formally explore withdrawing from RSU 5, which was formed in 2009 and is comprised of Durham, Freeport and Pownal.

“We’re very pleased with results of the Durham vote. It shows the citizens were provided with clear factual information in which to base their decision, in large part done by the Education Exploration Committee,” RSU 5 Superintendent Shannon Welsh said Wednesday, referring to an October report that detailed the consequences of withdrawal. “The vote reflects that students and families are very happy with quality of education they’re receiving. We’re pleased they’ll be  staying with us.”

Under state law, towns can withdraw from RSUs after 30 months. Ultimately, the decision to withdraw would have had to have been approved by the state education commissioner and again by Durham voters.

Among the complaints about the RSU from Pownal and Durham residents is that Freeport, with its much larger population, has six seats on the School Board, while the other two towns account for only five seats total.

Although Freeport has the potential to overrule the other towns in decision-making, “there has never been a vote that split along town lines,” according to the committee’s study.

If Durham decided to join or form another consolidated school district, the town’s votes would decrease in all but one of the six surrounding communities considered by the committee, because those districts already have larger populations than RSU 5, according to the panel’s report.

The committee also found that staying in the RSU would be more cost-effective than withdrawing.

The withdrawal would have affected plans for a proposed Freeport High School renovation, due to the loss of about 150 students, Welsh said.

“The architect’s drawing are not due to the board until January, so they are still in the midst of working on the project,” she said. This just removes one component of their work.”

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.