NORTH YARMOUTH — By an 8-1 margin, residents overwhelmingly defeated a referendum Tuesday that called for the town’s withdrawal from School Administrative District 51.
The measure was defeated 2,174 to 274, according to unofficial results.
Had the ballot question been approved, negotiations would have begun between North Yarmouth and SAD 51, which the town formed with Cumberland in 1966. A negotiated withdrawal plan would then have gone back to North Yarmouth and required approval by two-thirds of voters.
A majority of residents who attended two public hearings on the issue last month spoke against the proposal. Mark Verrill, a former selectman who led the withdrawal drive, said at an Oct. 10 hearing that his goals were to reduce property taxes, improve the quality of education, and eventually build a new school in town.
“I never expected it, from day one, for it to pass the first time,” Verrill said Wednesday morning. “I did hope to get a larger percentage than we got. I tip my hat totally and congratulate the ‘no’ side; they did an excellent job in spreading their message.”
He said he was glad the issue contributed to a large voter turnout in North Yarmouth, “and I hope the conversation will continue, because there is trouble here with all the school budgets in the area. … We’re all being punished because the state’s not holding up its 55 percent commitment (to funding education), so I thought here in North Yarmouth, we should explore all options.”
The SAD 51 Board of Directors is expected later this year to vote on a task force’s proposal to close the North Yarmouth Memorial School – the only school in town – and move its fourth- and fifth-grade population to an expanded Greely Middle School in Cumberland, as a means of saving money.
Verrill has said accomplishing his goals would increase property values in North Yarmouth, and that approval of the referendum would not mean the town would automatically leave SAD 51, but would rather start a “fact-finding mission.”
The Board of Selectmen had allocated $100,000 to a withdrawal committee, to be available if the referendum question passed.
Selectman Mark Girard said he was pleased with the outcome, complimenting the way residents were engaged “in a very thoughtful and intellectual process. People paid attention, (and) they asked a lot of good questions and shared a lot of good information.”
Girard had argued that an independent North Yarmouth, taking on the cost of a new school, would have had a school cost this year of $6.3 million. That amount is about $822,000 more than what the town is now paying, and would cause a tax rate increase from the current $13.95 per $1,000 of property valuation to $15.65, he said. That hike would result in a tax increase of approximately $468 for a home valued at $275,000.