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Freeport's withdrawal from RSU 5 remains on track after hearing

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Freeport's withdrawal from RSU 5 remains on track after hearing

FREEPORT — After members of the public mostly expressed support Tuesday, the Freeport Withdrawal Committee is now waiting for the Maine Department of Education to give final approval to the town's withdrawal from Regional School Unit 5.

The DOE last month conditionally approved Freeport's plan to withdraw from RSU 5, which it shares with Durham and Pownal. Now that RSU 5 has held a public hearing, the DOE has 30 days to approve the plan.

"We'll know soon if there's a problem but I don't expect there will be," said Peter Murray, a member of both the FWC and the RSU 5 Board of Directors.

Murray said once the DOE gives its final word, the withdrawal agreement will definitely be on the Nov. 4 ballot in Freeport. 

The public hearing Tuesday night, required by state law, drew around 30 people, and only a handful had comments or questions.

Most expressed support for withdrawing from the RSU, while some said they want more information before November's vote.

"I hope there is some meeting in the future that gives us the pros and cons of staying or not," Freeport resident John Lowe said.

Murray said the withdrawal agreement will be discussed again at a Town Council meeting before Election day. The budget for a new school system will be discussed then, he said, because it has not been completed.

There will also be a FWC workshop at the council's Sept. 2 meeting at Mallet Barn on Wolfe's Neck Road.

RSU 5 was formed in 2009 and Freeport voted last December to begin the withdrawal process.

If the referendum passes, Freeport's withdrawal will be effective July 1, 2015. RSU 5 students can still attend the Freeport school they would have attended for the 2015-2016 school year. If they decide to stay after that year, students will be guaranteed admission to Freeport schools.

Freeport has also agreed to be the school of guaranteed acceptance for Pownal Middle School students for 10 years following the withdrawal. Durham and Pownal have other options as well: Brunswick has also agreed to be a school of guaranteed acceptance.

Kevin Nadeau of Durham said not all parents in Durham and Pownal want choice.

"There's benefits to choice for some people, but there's also benefits to cohesiveness," he said.

Nadeau said he conducted a survey among Durham parents with school-age children to gauge how they felt about the withdrawal agreement and the options it presented. If the withdrawal is approved, 29 percent said they would send their children to Brunswick and 37 percent said they would choose Freeport. He said the rest would choose other schools.

The survey also found that 70 percent of the parents polled don't want Freeport to withdraw from RSU 5.

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