Proposal to close North Yarmouth school now up to SAD 51 board

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NORTH YARMOUTH — A task force recommendation to close North Yarmouth Memorial School drew mixed public reaction Monday.

The School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors, which met at the school, also voted to send the district’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget to a Thursday, April 12, public hearing.

“We are still in the middle of this process,” School Board Chairman Jim Bailinson said about the fate of the 36-year-old school.

He noted that the soonest the board would vote on the task force recommendation would be early next month. If the panel endorses the closure, the matter will go to voters in North Yarmouth and Cumberland.

The task force has also recommended that if the school is closed, its fourth- and fifth-grade students should be moved to an expanded Greely Middle School in Cumberland.

While the proposal intends to save SAD 51 more than half a million dollars a year, it could also add fuel to an ongoing petition drive to withdraw North Yarmouth from the district.

Mark Verrill of North Yarmouth, a former town selectman, said Monday that he has so far collected 217 signatures, nine more than the 208 required. He plans to continue collecting until around July 1 and said he would like to accumulate between 300 and 400 signatures.

“The sky is the limit, I suppose,” Verrill said, adding that the proposed closure of the school “has made it easy to collect signatures recently. I’ve had people that I don’t even know, in town, ring my doorbell or call me on the phone and want to sign the petition. Not everybody is for withdrawal, but at least nine out of 10 people that I’ve spoken to believe that North Yarmouth should continue to have a school presence in the district.”

Once the required signatures are gathered, the question of whether to begin the withdrawal process would proceed to referendum in North Yarmouth and require a majority vote. Verrill has said he hopes to see the referendum question on the November general election ballot.

Mark Girard, chairman of the task force, said at Monday’s meeting that the panel was mindful that it was not an elected board and had no authority. It tried to look at the information before it and advise on “what we thought would be an appropriate stewardship decision in terms of how to move forward,” he said.

Girard said the task force believes the school closure is the most prudent course of action, given the district’s declining school population, the condition, age and configuration of the building, the availability of other resources to meet educational needs, and the impact on taxes.

“All of those things are value decisions at the end of the day,” he said.

David Perkins of North Yarmouth, a former SAD 51 board member, expressed concern about a lack of a plan if the school is closed, “in terms of this facility, and a future school in North Yarmouth.”

From North Yarmouth’s perspective, he said, “we are the small partner in this relationship, and there’s a very clear fear that if this (school) is closed, and life moves on, that we’ll never see a school here again.”

Jim Moulton of North Yarmouth said he remembered the school housing kindergarten through eighth-grade classes. He praised the task force’s work and noted that “from a business point of view, from an operational point of view, when I look at $550,000 a year savings, I don’t see how you cannot take that seriously.”

The task force’s executive summary notes that closing the school would save about $750,000 a year. This, offset by about $200,000 a year in added financed capital and operational costs from the middle school’s expansion, would result in a net savings of about $550,000 a year.

The document states that the North Yarmouth school’s fourth and fifth grades could be moved to Greely Middle School while preserving those student groups in “relative isolation” from the middle school’s current sixth through eighth grades.

To facilitate the two additional grades, the task force has recommended the 130,000-square-foot middle school be expanded with a 4,000-square-foot two-story addition to the cafeteria and library, along with another 4,000-square-foot two-story addition for four new classrooms.

Holly Day of North Yarmouth expressed concern about placing fourth- and fifth-graders in the same building as sixth- through eighth-graders.

“I think our children are growing up too quickly as it is, and I don’t think they’re going to have enough separation; I don’t think they’re going to have enough community,” she said. “They’re very much going to be exposed to what’s going on in the middle school.”

The April 12 budget public hearing will be held at the Greely High School library at 7 p.m. A projected 5.9 percent increase in next year’s spending plan, as proposed by Superintendent Robert Hasson, has been shaved down to 5.3 percent.

The reduction of about $180,000 would bring next year’s budget to $30.4 million.

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

A discussion on a task force’s recommendation to close the North Yarmouth Memorial School drew a large crowd Monday evening.

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A task force recommendation to close North Yarmouth Memorial School was discussed at the school Monday evening.

Mark Girard of North Yarmouth led the task force that is recommending North Yarmouth Memorial School be closed.

Mark Verrill of North Yarmouth, an advocate of maintaining a school in town, is collecting signatures for a petition calling for the town to withdraw from School Administrative District 51.

A task force recommendation to close North Yarmouth Memorial School drew a large turnout Monday evening.

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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.