North Yarmouth selectmen send SAD withdrawal question to November referendum

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The Board of Selectmen voted 3-1 Tuesday to put a question suggesting withdrawal from School Administrative District 51 on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

If the question is approved, negotiations would begin between North Yarmouth and the school district, which the town formed with Cumberland in 1966. A negotiated withdrawal plan would be developed and ultimately go back to North Yarmouth and require approval by two-thirds of voters.

Resident Mark Verrill, who spearheaded the petition, but did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, had 214 signatures validated by the town clerk’s office in July – 11 more than required to approve the petition. He presented the certified petition to the Board of Selectmen last week.

Verrill wanted the question to go on the November ballot because the presidential election is expected to draw a large voter turnout.

Selectman Mark Girard, who voted against putting the question to voters in November, said he was conflicted about the date. While he noted the significance of the question and importance of voter turnout, Girard said that there are many issues concerning the implications of the withdrawal process about which the public is not informed.

The focus in the next two months on the national elections, he said, “is not necessarily going to afford the instructional time or the exploration time that this issue deserves.”

He pointed out that the SAD 51 board’s pending decision on whether to close North Yarmouth Memorial School – recommended by a task force as a means of saving the district money – would also be looming around the time of a November withdrawal vote.

The school decision would have “a dramatic effect on not only the basis for the withdrawal, but the mechanics of a final settlement of the withdrawal,” Girard said. “And I’m concerned that that creates another very severe distraction and uncertainties in the process around this vote.”

Were he in favor of withdrawal, he would want to undergo that process after closure of the school, he said.

That school “is the only asset of the … school district in the town of North Yarmouth,” Girard said. “The disposition of that asset is a key item in terms of its role in the negotiating process.”

Verrill said last November that as a church deacon, and a selectman from 2008-2011, he has seen many people struggle to pay their property taxes. He has said he hopes leaving SAD 51 will significantly reduce property taxes, improve the quality of education while reducing the cost, and preserve North Yarmouth’s rural character by curbing growth.

The Board of Selectmen also voted unanimously to allocate $100,000 toward the withdrawal committee’s expenditures, if the referendum question passes; that expenditure will be mentioned in the language of the question. Administrative Assistant Marnie Diffin said those funds would be in the town’s fiscal 2014 budget.

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

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.