North Yarmouth school options could be ready next month; drive to leave SAD 51 continues

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NORTH YARMOUTH — A task force could make recommendations next month about the future of North Yarmouth Memorial School.

Mark Girard, chairman of the School Administrative District 51 task force, said last week that the group is still looking at several options, including whether to build a new school, renovate the existing nearly 36-year-old structure, or do nothing.

He said next month is the soonest the task force will have a recommendation, or recommendations, for the School Board.

Meanwhile, former North Yarmouth Selectman Mark Verrill continues to collect petition signatures for the town’s withdrawal from SAD 51. He advocates maintaining a school in North Yarmouth, which formed SAD 51 with Cumberland in 1966.

As a church deacon, and a selectman from 2008-2011, Verrill in November said he has seen many people struggle to pay their property taxes. He said he hopes leaving the school district will achieve a “significant reduction” in property taxes, improve the quality of education at lower cost, and preserve North Yarmouth’s rural character by curbing growth.

Verrill noted that according to 2009 statistics, Cumberland’s median annual household income was about $84,000, while North Yarmouth’s was just more than $61,000 – a “marriage” he believes North Yarmouth cannot afford.

Sixty-six percent of students who live in the district are from Cumberland, while 34 percent live in North Yarmouth. Cumberland bears 71.3 percent of the school district tax assessment, while North Yarmouth bears 28.7 percent of the assessment.

The withdrawal petition must have at least 208 valid North Yarmouth signatures – 10 percent of the number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election. Maine Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin has said there is no time limit or deadline for the collection of signatures.

Verrill, who started collecting signatures last November, said last week that he has gathered 182 so far, and that he does not plan to stop at 208.

“I hope, with time being on my side, to knock on pretty much every door in town between now and July, and (gather) as many signatures as I can,” he said.

Once the required signatures are gathered, the question of whether to begin the withdrawal process would go to referendum in North Yarmouth and require a majority vote. Verrill said he plans to submit the signatures for validation around July 1 and hopes to see the referendum question on the November general election ballot.

“I want a higher voter turnout,” Verrill said. “That’s the bottom line.”

If the referendum is approved, negotiations would begin between North Yarmouth and SAD 51. A negotiated withdrawal plan would then go back to North Yarmouth and require approval by two-thirds of voters.

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

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.