Most Freeport town councilors support measure to leave RSU 5

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FREEPORT — Six of the seven town councilors on Tuesday said they support the town’s withdrawal from Regional School Unit 5.

Councilor Kristina Egan was the only one who said she will vote against the withdrawal referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The comments, made during a public hearing Tuesday night, were the first time many of the councilors publicly announced their positions on the question.

Around 40 people attended the public hearing, which was a requirement of the withdrawal process. Roughly half of the attendees shares their thoughts and opinions. When the public comment period closed, Chairman Jim Hendricks decided to have each councilor share his or her view. 

“I think the governance model we’re in right now is not ideal,” Hendricks said. “I support withdrawal from the RSU.”

Councilor Andy Wellen agreed, saying Freeport has voted opposite of Durham and Pownal on the school budget almost every year since consolidation.

“It seems that Freeport wants different things than Durham and Pownal,” he said.

Wellen said he wants to regain local control of the schools . Councilor Scott Gleeson said the same thing.

“My main reason (for supporting withdrawal) is local control,” he said. “What I look forward to is building our own system.”

Councilor Sarah Tracy echoed said Freeport will do a better job on its own.

“I believe Freeport can provide a better education in a Freeport-only school district,” she said.

Tracy said she believes a future Freeport school board would be able to balance the needs of the school with what taxpayers could afford.

Councilor Melanie Sachs said she is “100 percent for withdrawal.”

“I believe a stand-alone vision is better in a Freeport-only district,” she said. “(Consolidation) is not a sustainable model.”

Councilor Rich DeGrandpre said the RSU model was flawed from the outset.

“I think (Freeport) can do this better and I support withdrawal,” DeGrandpre said.

Egan disagreed with her colleagues, and said “withdrawal would be a mistake.” She said Freeport children have gained many opportunities through consolidation, which occurred in 2009.

“I’m concerned we’ll lose educational opportunities (if Freeport withdraws),” Egan said. “I feel like it’s a bad deal for taxpayers and a bad deal for our kids.”

Members of the public who spoke were divided.

“This is a big gamble for Freeport; with the pullout there are no guarantees,” Chris Parker said. “I would like to see a united community that grows together.”

Mary Martin agreed. She also said the RSU has produced an increase in school programs.

“I have a huge concern that if withdrawal happens, we won’t be able to offer the same classes we’ve offered over the past few years,” she said.

Heather Dodge also said she will vote against withdrawal. She said her youngest son, who has spent all four high school years in the RSU, has more classmates and opportunities for social activities and extracurriculars than her oldest, who spent all four years in the previous Freeport-only school district.

“I firmly believe public education is for the greater good and should serve surrounding communities,” Dodge said.

Kate Werner, a member of the Freeport Withdrawal Committee, said wanting to withdraw doesn’t mean Freeport doesn’t care about the Durham and Pownal students.

“We care about all the kids who go to our schools and wear the Freeport falcon,” she said.

Despite this, she said Freeport would benefit from leaving RSU 5.

“We have one chance to take the reigns again and take control of our schools,” Werner said. “Consolidation has not lived up to expectations.”

Others who said they are voting to withdraw said they are concerned that Freeport students will leave the district if the RSU remains intact.

“It’s a real concern to me to hear of so many students leaving our town each year,” Carolyn Krahn said.

People also expressed concerns that staying in the RSU will deter families from moving to town.

“There are too many families right now saying, ‘why take a chance on Freeport?'” Jerry Antl said. 

Lindsay Sterling said Freeport has to stand on its own because of the battles with Durham and Pownal over budgets and agenda items.

“To have an excellent school district, we have to show support for our teachers, our students, and our extracurriculars,” she said. “The RSU 5 budget wars have done quite the opposite. They’ve cut at the heart of our schools.”

If approved on Election Day, withdrawal will take effect July 1, 2015.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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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.