School chief, state: Not up to SAD 75 to promote opposition to West Harpswell School closure

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HARPSWELL — On Monday, the Board of Selectmen asked School Administrative District 75 to present alternative views about the proposed closing of West Harpswell School.

But in an interview Wednesday, SAD 75 Superintendent Michael Wilhelm said the School Board is not required to publicize any views other than its own.

The School Board has voted twice to close the school, but some Harpswell residents believe strongly it should stay open. The board was scheduled to have a discussion Thursday night about whether to distribute a four-page flier to Harpswell residents that explains the decision to shut down West Harpswell School.

The fliers would be distributed in anticipation of a town referendum on Feb. 1.

Harpswell selectmen, including Chairman James Henderson, object to the SAD 75 literature because Harpswell residents pay taxes to support the school district. Therefore, Henderson said, SAD 75 has a responsibility to represent the opinion of Harpswell residents who want to keep the school open.

“I would think it’s appropriate for any government to ensure that both sides of the issue are identified,” he said.

He asserted that SAD 75’s information distribution process is biased because it only presents its own perspective on the issue.

Harpswell resident Robert McIntyre, a vocal opponent of the decision to close West Harpswell School, acquired a copy of a proposed SAD 75 mailing at last week’s Comprehensive Strategic Planning Committee meeting.

He said the information is “an advocacy document. I can think of only one of their claims that would stand up to positive scrutiny.”

So far, selectmen have not received a reply from Wilhelm regarding their request. But on Wednesday, he was adamant that SAD 75 is not required to present any opposing views.

“We have no legal obligation to put the opposing view of any organization in any information we send out regarding district initiatives,” he said.

When asked if he thought the information being distributed is “one-sided,” as alleged by McIntyre, Wilhelm said, “It is, they’re right!”

“The board has decided they would like to close the school, and they’re providing information why. Of course it’s one-sided. It’s the board’s publication.”

A spokesman for the Maine Department of Education confirmed Wilhelm’s position on distribution of alternative perspectives.

David Connerty-Marin, DOE director of communications, said there is no law that says a school administrative district must present both sides of an issue.

“They want to explain to the public why they’re recommending that the school be closed,” he said. “There’s nothing that speaks to a requirement to share or not share the information.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net

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