NORTH YARMOUTH — Resident Mark Verrill said he plans to petition the Board of Selectmen in September to put a referendum question for the eventual breakup of School Administrative District 51 on the November general election ballot.
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.
“I see no reason why a North Yarmouth citizen wouldn’t at least want to kick the tires on this and see what it looks like,” Verrill said last week, after he had 214 signatures validated by the town clerk’s office – 11 more than required to approve the petition.
Verrill said he encountered some people in the signature-gathering process who were surprised by the petition and concerned about secession, while others were enthusiastic or wanted more information before signing.
Taxes are a major part of the issue for Verrill. He said last November that as a church deacon, and a selectman from 2008-2011, he has seen how many people struggle to pay their property taxes.
Verrill 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.
Some opponents of withdrawal have argued that secession would be expensive, and that the state requires a certain amount of money to be raised locally toward education, limiting the town’s ability to reduce its tax rate.
“Some of the expenses would be the same,” Verrill acknowledged. “But … as I see it in reading the state law, there would be a lot of money, due to breaking up the district, that would be entitled for the town of North Yarmouth to get back from the district, since we’re a 30 percent shareholder and we don’t hold 30 percent of the assets here.”
He added that he believes North Yarmouth “could pretty much build a new school and have no debt on the building with money that we already have invested in SAD 51.”
The Cumberland-North Yarmouth district formed in 1966. Closure of the only district school in North Yarmouth, the North Yarmouth Memorial School, has been recommended by a district task force as a way to save money. SAD 51 Superintendent Robert Hasson said last week that the School Board could take action on that recommendation this fall.
Verrill has said 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 does not believe North Yarmouth can afford.
He also noted that North Yarmouth does not have the commercial opportunities enjoyed by Cumberland.
“Our contribution to the school district has to come solely on the backs of property owners, without any commercial base,” Verrill said. “And over time, if this continues, it will only get worse for North Yarmouth.”