RSU 5 board submits Freeport withdrawal proposal to state, seeks November referendum

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FREEPORT — The board of directors of Regional School Unit 5 on July 30 sent the Freeport withdrawal agreement to the Department of Education, with the intent to have it on the local ballot in November.

The School Board’s unanimous vote to submit the agreement to Education Commissioner James Rier followed recent finalization of the pact by the Freeport Withdrawal Committee.

“This agreement represents the withdrawal committee’s best and final offer,” Peter Murray, board member and Freeport Withdrawal Committee member, said.

If passed in November, the withdrawal would take effect July 1, 2015. The agreement states that “educational continuity” will be provided for all students in the RSU 5. Freeport agrees to accept students who would have been enrolled in a Freeport school under RSU 5 for the 2015-2016 school year for the remainder of the time they have left in school.

“Once you’re in the school system, you’re basically guaranteed to finish the rest of your grades,” Murray said.

The capacity at Freeport High School has been set at 500, with Freeport residents getting the first spots. The first 60 RSU 5 kids will then have a tuition that will be the midpoint between the state average tuition and the state actual cost, according to Murray. Any RSU 5 kids admitted after the first 60 will pay the state actual cost.

Freeport also agrees to be the school of guaranteed acceptance for Pownal Middle School students for 10 years following the withdrawal. If the capacity exceeds 500 at Freeport High School it will be allowed to ensure that RSU 5 kids can finish schooling in Freeport.

That doesn’t mean every RSU 5 student will want to continue at Freeport, and Freeport is aware of this. Murray said the capacity is unlikely to be surpassed because students from Durham and Pownal will have other choices.

One choice will be to attend Brunswick schools. The Brunswick School Department will determine Aug. 13 if it will be a school of guaranteed acceptance for RSU 5 students.

The withdrawal committee was formed after Freeport decided in October 2013 that it wanted to leave the school unit it shares with Durham and Pownal. RSU 5 was formed in 2009 after a statewide mandate. Freeport residents voted last December to begin the withdrawal process.

The board noted prior to voting Wednesday that sending the agreement to the DOE doesn’t necessarily mean that every board member believes Freeport should withdraw from the school unit.

Rather, it means the board agrees it’s time for Freeport residents to make a decision, assuming Rier approves the agreement.

“I think everyone in RSU 5 feels it’s in everyone’s best interests to move this in one direction or the other,” board member Michelle Ritchenson said.

Many members of the public agreed during the meeting at Freeport High School, saying they were tired of the agreement not moving forward. Many in the crowd of 50-60 people from all three RSU 5 towns said they wanted the board to approve it so it could be voted upon.

“What this is really about is to bring something forward so we don’t have to drag this out another year,” Freeport resident John Lowe said.

“Now is the time. The DOE needs this agreement and they need it soon,” Alan Tracy of Freeport said.

Rier will either approve the agreement or send it back for revisions. The November vote is unlikely if he doesn’t OK the terms.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.