By an overwhelming margin, Sebago votes to enter withdrawal mode

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Sebago is now in withdrawal mode.

Voters Tuesday passed a referendum that will start the withdrawal process from SAD 61. The measure carried with 336 “yes” votes, while 58 residents voted “no.” There was one blank ballot.

By state statute, Sebago will now formally notify SAD 61 via written letter that the town is entering the withdrawal process. Selectmen and School Board directors (Joe McMahon and Ben Bowditch) will appoint a Withdrawal Committee, which will eventually enter into negotiations with SAD 61. One of two of the school board member will serve on the committee — they will decide who will serve. Selectmen appoint the other three members (a selectman, a Friends of Sebago Elementary member, and someone from the general public). Those appointments will be made at the next selectmen’s meeting.

Allen Crabtree, a member of a Study Group, which brought the referendum to voters after a petition was signed by residents, said a subcommittee (there is no set membership limit) could also be formed to help with “research” regarding school options. The Withdrawal Committee, however, will be the town’s legal entity when dealing with SAD 61, state Department of Education officials and other school systems.

Although the town did approve $25,000 from undesignated funds, local officials stressed that they will attempt to spend “as little as possible” by “doing most of the work” themselves.

At a public hearing, Study Group members said the main goal is to reach an agreement with SAD 61 regarding keeping Sebago Elementary School open, as well as possible changes in school funding. If negotiations fail, Sebago could look at other opportunities, including joining another school district.

According to state law, there are certain points when Sebago can end the withdrawal process.

SAD 61 news

At the SAD 61 board meeting Monday night:

  • Superintendent of Schools Al Smith reported that the Crooked River project has been reworked to lower the cost while still maintaining the “educational integrity” of the proposed construction/renovation.

Some spaces, such as the kitchen and music room, were reduced in size, while some elements, such as a pellet boiler, were eliminated from the plan. Areas reworked include a stage in the gym area, as well as the building’s front façade.

Superintendent Smith defended the decision to house Grades 3, 4 and 5 there, rather than go with a two-grade facility. One reason, the space problem at Songo Locks would remain if Grade 3 stays at SLS and SAD 61 adds a Pre-K down the road. Secondly, Smith said construction/renovation costs for two grades at Crooked River would run about $5 to $6 million, while the latest proposal for three grades at CRES is at $7,880,000 — down from $9.6 million, which was rejected by voters.

Directors agreed to Smith’s proposed timeline of putting the project back out to the voters April 12. Directors will finalize the plan and sign necessary warrants at their Feb. 22 meeting; absentee ballots would be available March 11; and a public hearing would be held April 5 at the Lake Region High School gym (directors ruled out using the Great Room at LRVC because “we have no idea how many people will come to the hearing, and we shouldn’t expect people to have to stand,” Casco Director Phil Shane said).

Superintendent Smith also addressed the matter of the proposed CRES being able to house 350 students. He pointed out the district’s philosophy has been to keep classes in the 18 to 20 student range. With 15 classrooms earmarked for the new project and if class size is kept at 18, those rooms would accommodate 270 students. The projected student enrollment for the facility, once work is completed, is 260. As shown by enrollment figures at Stevens Brook this year, figures can fluctuate. SBES has had a high of 323 and a current number of 314.

Smith noted that Songo Locks presently uses former custodial spaces as instructional rooms due to overcrowding.

Casco Director Stan Buchanan commended Smith and the Building Committee for “listening to people” and reducing the project nearly $1.7 million yet not “hurting the educational needs of our children.”

  • Sebago Director Joe McMahon was perturbed regarding what he considered as inaccurate minutes taken at the Jan. 11 board workshop meeting. McMahon claimed he was “misquoted” in the minutes and was upset that it was the second time in recent months that comments he made were inaccurately reported in SAD 61 minutes.

McMahon asked that the minutes be tabled, but motion failed lacking a second. Directors approved the minutes, as presented, by a 7-1 vote. There were two abstentions.

  • The owner of McDonald’s in Bridgton donated 10 lift tickets to the Stevens Brook Elementary School ski program, Principal Cheryl Turpin reported. The principal also noted that State Representative Phyllis Ginzler will pay half of the costs to transport students to Augusta for a visit at the state capital.
  • Lake Region Vocational Center students plan to work with Sebago Elementary students taking apart and reassembling motors, etc. as part of a six-week, 1½ hour program.
  • Songo Locks School will host 12 interns from St. Joseph’s College in Standish, who will “observe and learn” from the educational setting there.


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