Forecaster Forum: Good reasons for Freeport to leave RSU 5

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The good news about the Nov. 4 referendum regarding the withdrawal of Freeport from Regional School Unit 5 is that, no matter the outcome, the children of Freeport, Pownal and Durham can, and hopefully will, continue to be well served in their schools.

Nonetheless, factors both economic and educational favor a vote to withdraw by Freeport voters.

Economic factors

A withdrawal vote will result in an immediate savings in the order of $7 million of bonded indebtedness for the taxpayers of Freeport, Pownal and Durham.

These savings are not hypothetical, they are literal, since RSU voters have already approved a $14.2 million appropriation to renovate and expand Freeport High School. Why should the taxpayers of Freeport incur such costs, when the Brunswick School Committee has agreed to host all future Durham and Pownal high school students in their attractive and modern facility?

A “no” vote can mean that none of the four communities involved will need to spend taxpayer dollars to add to any school facilities.

Academic factors

Freeport High School currently has an enrollment of 486 students. If Freeport withdraws from RSU 5, Freeport’s future enrollment will be capped at 500, keeping it the same size as a present, and able to offer all the special programs and advanced courses it now does.

If Freeport’s high school enrollment were to decline – which it will not likely do for five to 10 years because of the “grandfathering” of Pownal and Durham students in the middle and high school pipelines – the high school would still continue to be able to offer all of the special programs and advanced courses it now does:

With a decline of 100 students over the years, the teaching faculty (presently of 49) might decline by five to seven positions. Such reductions could be accomplished via normal attrition, since they would be spread over six to 12 years.

Since Freeport offers fewer than 100 special-purpose courses, such as “Jobs for Maine’s Graduates,” Special Education, and Honors and Advanced Placement classes, and since each teacher teaches six courses or the equivalent, a high school of 400 students or fewer would continue to be able to offer all of the special courses it offers now.

It is my experience as well that, when given a choice in education, smaller is always better. In a smaller school, each student has a greater chance to be known, supported and recognized. The recognition of each child is a precondition for successful learning.

Athletic factors

Freeport has for years competed as a Class B school in some sports and as a class C school in others.

If Freeport withdraws from RSU 5, it will maintain a population of 500 or fewer. Freeport will continue to compete in both Classes B and C, depending upon the sport. At various times Freeport may be reclassified from B to C or visa versa, depending upon cut-off points established by the Maine Principals Association.

Should a Freeport sports team be reclassified from B to C, Freeport’s schedule of opponents will change only slightly, since teams in both divisions play against the mixture of B and C teams located geographically nearest them.

The bottom line then, if Freeport withdraws from RSU 5, is that no student in Freeport will suffer any loss of opportunity to compete in the sports of her or his choosing.

There is one possible exception to this proposition: Varsity football carried a squad of 20 last fall. Seven of those students live in Pownal. Please note, nonetheless, that all current students who live in Pownal or Durham are “grandfathered” for graduation from Freeport High School.

So the children of Freeport, Pownal and Durham will be well served, regardless of the Nov. 4 vote. For voters in Freeport, however, there are significant economic, academic and athletic reasons to vote for withdrawal.

Tom Edwards is a Freeport resident and assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Southern Maine. He was superintendent of Portland Public Schools from 1990-1995, and principal of Freeport High School from 1996-2006.