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School district withdrawal finds few friends in North Yarmouth

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School district withdrawal finds few friends in North Yarmouth

NORTH YARMOUTH — The question of whether the town should withdraw from its school district, which goes before voters Tuesday, Nov. 6, drew substantial opposition at an Oct. 17 public hearing.

If the ballot question is approved, negotiations would begin between North Yarmouth and School Administrative District 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.

"Once you engage in the process, you have to complete the process," Steve Palmer, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, told the meeting. He noted that a yes vote does not mean North Yarmouth automatically withdraws from SAD 51, but rather that a withdrawal committee would further investigate the matter.

That group would be composed of a member each from the Board of Selectmen and School Board, as well as a person who signed the petition to place the question on the ballot, and someone from the public at large, Palmer said.

Mark Verrill, a former selectman who led the withdrawal drive, said at an initial Oct. 10 hearing that his goal is to reduce property taxes, improve the quality of education, and eventually build a new school in town.

The Board of Selectmen has allocated $100,000 to a withdrawal committee, to be used if the referendum question passes. The expenditure, to come from the town's fiscal 2014 budget, is included in the ballot language.

Resident Faith Morse, a real estate agent, said she has already had clients remove North Yarmouth from consideration because they are unsure about the status of the school district.

"Whatever your real estate value is right now, it will be lower until the process is finished," Morse said. "... People are not going to want to come and buy your houses. ... They're going to choose Cumberland instead."

Verrill acknowledged that in the short term, North Yarmouth residents could experience difficulty selling their houses, "but I think in the long term, we'd be much better off with a brand new school in town, and our own high-performing school district. And I believe it's achievable."

He added that "I know (withdrawal is) an unpopular idea, I know it seems crazy to a certain degree, but it's forward thinking. ... If you want an opportunity to lower your property taxes and bring back local control, you want to favor withdrawal. If you want to keep the school presence in North Yarmouth forever, you want to favor the withdrawal."

The School Board expects later this year to vote on a task force recommendation to close North Yarmouth Memorial School and move its fourth- and fifth-grade student body to an expanded Greely Middle School in Cumberland, in order to save money.

Selectman Mark Girard, who opposes withdrawal and presented data at the first meeting showing the town would likely have to pay more on its own, argued against suggestions that North Yarmouth could receive state funding to build a new school. He pointed out that SAD 51 applied for money in the 2010-2011 funding cycle toward renovation, an addition or reconstruction.

"That extensive application was ranked 65th out of 71 applications across the state," Girard said. "If anybody thinks that we are going to get state funding for a school in North Yarmouth, they are absolutely incorrect."

He said his "no" vote would not be a ballot cast in favor of "business as usual," noting that the district has "sustainability issues around the cost of education," and that his vote "says we can achieve more by working together than we can by working alone."

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.