June vote likely on proposal to pull Harpswell out of SAD 75

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HARPSWELL — The Board of Selectmen must decide whether to schedule a June referendum on a proposal to withdraw from School Administrative District 75.

A petition for withdrawal made its way through town around the time voters decided to close West Harpswell School. Two weeks ago, that petition was submitted and the town clerk verified 327 signatures.

The petition asked residents if they favored filing for withdrawal with the SAD 75  board and the state education commissioner, and authorizing the town to create a withdrawal committee that could spend up to $55,000.

One signer, Scott Lemieux, this week said he wanted the town to open “a detailed investigation into all our educational options.”

Lemieux said he was concerned that the town is not getting a good value for the money it was paying SAD 75 to educate Harpswell students.

“We’re paying an enormous pupil cost and we have an essentially non-responsive administration at SAD 75 level,” he said, adding that he would prefer if parents could choose between several public schools in other districts, including Brunswick, rather than aligning with SAD 75.

But Brunswick Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said he had reservations about allowing Harpswell parents to send their children to Brunswick.

“We welcome Harpswell students,” Perzanoski said. “The adults give us reservations.”

Perzanoski cited the behavior of some Harpswell parents and residents had at SAD 75 board meetings when the issue of closing West Harpswell School was discussed.

“I think it’s important that if you’re going to have a relationship with someone that you can agree to disagree,” he said. “I would have great reservations about bringing this to the board if the behavior continued down this path.”

But Robert McIntyre, a Harpswell resident who helped put the petition together, said he doesn’t expect any conflicts with the Brunswick School Board, which he said has a much different “texture and tone” than the SAD 75 board.

Before any negotiations with local school districts begin, the Board of Selectmen must schedule a referendum, and a majority of voters must approve the measure. Then the town would create a withdrawal committee, which would consider what options the town has if it decides to leave SAD 75.

These include remaining in SAD 75, but renegotiating how much Harpswell pays the district per student; giving students a choice between multiple middle and high schools in the area; or contracting with one school district in particular, Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said.

Whatever that committee decides, Harpswell would still have an obligation to SAD 75 to pay off its portion of the district’s debt and show the commissioner of education that it could guarantee the education of all its students.

Jim Henderson, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said selectmen don’t want to rush into a decision about the June referendum. But he also said he doesn’t see any reason why they wouldn’t schedule the vote.

In the meantime, Henderson said the town will hold public forums to educate residents – and officials – about alternatives to SAD 75.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net