CUMBERLAND — Though they may not be able to vote on it, members of Greely High School’s debate team had a lot to say last week about the possibility of North Yarmouth leaving School Administrative District 51.
Tucker Tardiff moderated the discussion, where Nathaniel Chapin, Nathan Medrano and Wyatt Kilburn argued for withdrawal, and Malik Black, Sam Carigan and Emily Follett opposed the proposal.
If the ballot question is approved Nov. 6, negotiations would begin between North Yarmouth and SAD 51, which the town formed with Cumberland in 1966. A negotiated withdrawal plan would then go back to North Yarmouth and require approval by two-thirds of voters.
Mark Verrill, a former selectman who led the withdrawal drive, has said his goal is to reduce property taxes, improve the quality of education, and eventually build a new school in town.
The SAD 51 Board of Directors plans to vote later this year on a task force’s recommendation to close North Yarmouth Memorial School – the town’s only school – and move its fourth- and fifth-grade students to an expanded Greely Middle School to save money.
In supporting withdrawal, Chapin said it has been shown that smaller class sizes lead to better education, and that both North Yarmouth and Cumberland would therefore benefit from the separation. Fewer students also reduces the number of germs going around, he pointed out.
Medrano, a North Yarmouth sophomore, echoed Chapin’s sentiments about withdrawal being beneficial to both towns.
“There is no need for a particularly large or costly school, such as Greely, as only about 34 percent of Greely students live in North Yarmouth,” he said.
Medrano also pointed out how use of digital textbooks instead of print versions could save money, and would provide access to downloadable editions with the latest information. “Some textbooks in Greely High School are decades old,” he said.
North Yarmouth’s first schoolhouse was built in 1780 and the town had four by 1940, Kilburn said. “With this multitude of schoolhouses, the community of North Yarmouth was the strongest it has ever been,” he said, calling schools the cornerstone of a community.
Withdrawing from SAD 51 could save North Yarmouth Memorial School, Kilburn added, calling the loss of a school “the death of a community.”
But Black, from North Yarmouth, praised the education he has received at Greely High School and referred to U.S. News and World Report’s ranking of the school as Maine’s seventh best. If North Yarmouth withdraws from the district, he said, “we could risk decreasing our educational success.”
Black also pointed out that Greely High School has been around for 144 years, a long time for a school to develop both academically and socially. He questioned where North Yarmouth would send its high school students if it withdraws, noting that some potential choices lack what he called Greely’s “impressive” track record.
Carigan spoke to the emotional effects on a student when a district splits, noting his friendships with students from both towns and the impact North Yarmouth’s withdrawal could have on those relationships.
Follett referred to a presentation of data at an Oct. 10 public hearing, where Selectman Mark Girard argued that an independent North Yarmouth, incurring the cost of a new school, would have had a school cost this year of $6.3 million. That’s about $822,000 more than what it is now paying, and would cause a tax rate increase from the current $13.95 per $1,000 of property valuation to $15.65. That would result in a tax increase of approximately $468 for a home valued at $275,000.
Girard said the town could save about $10,000 annually, taking into account all the low ends of the comparables he used. But at the highest cost, North Yarmouth would pay an additional $2.3 million a year, he said.
Follett said that according to the National Association of Realtors, 25 percent of home purchasers consider school quality their top deciding factor.
“If possible future residents see the uncertainty of the district, they might have second thoughts about moving to North Yarmouth,” she said.