Final hearing held on Sebago withdrawal from SAD 61

Editor’s note: The following account of Tuesday’s public hearing regarding Sebago withdrawing from SAD 61 was written by Allen Crabtree, who has served as the Withdrawal Committee’s clerk.

SEBAGO — Sebago Board of Selectmen Chairman Ann Farley opened the public hearing at the Sebago town offices at 7 p.m., on Tuesday, Sept. 26. The meeting room at the town offices was filled with 75 Sebago taxpayers and interested citizens.

Lakes Region TV videotaped the hearing.

There were handouts for the audience including an information sheet and proposed budget for the new school administrative unit, copies of letters of encouragement from other towns who have successfully withdrawn from their school districts, and a copy of the negotiated withdrawal agreement.

“We are here to discuss Sebago’s withdrawal from the SAD 61 school district and, hopefully, to answer questions you may have,” she said. “There will be a vote here on withdrawal on Tuesday, Nov. 7, and I urge you to come out and vote.”

She then introduced educational consultant Dr. Mark Eastman and attorney Dan Stockford, who have been working with Sebago’s Withdrawal Committee for the past year and a half.

Eastman introduced the Sebago Withdrawal Committee — Lisa Johnson (Sebago PTO), Tim Mayberry (Sebago Selectman), Joe McMahan (MSAD 61 School Board member), and Richard Merritt (former SAD 61 School Board member). The committee was appointed by the selectmen after Sebago voters overwhelmingly approved to begin the withdrawal process in February 2016 with a vote of 385 in favor and 58 opposed.

With a PowerPoint presentation, he and Stockman then described Sebago’s history with SAD 61, what is proposed, what it is likely to cost, and what the future will hold for Sebago Elementary School as a new public School Administrative Unit.

“We are at this point because of long-standing and real concerns that SAD 61 could close Sebago Elementary School, and under state law there is little that the town can do to prevent it,” said Eastman. “If the school were closed, Sebago students would be bused to other district elementary schools, which would entail long bus rides each way for our youngest children. This was not acceptable to Sebago parents and taxpayers, and not in the interests of providing the best education for our elementary students.”

The Withdrawal Committee tried unsuccessfully to get a guarantee from the district that would keep Sebago Elementary open. When that effort failed, the committee negotiated an agreement with the district to withdraw. This agreement will allow Sebago to establish their own separate Sebago School Administrative Unit, run it, and keep Sebago Elementary School open for the community and school children. Sebago students will still be able to attend Lake Region Middle and High Schools and will also have other choices.

Eastman and Stockford have worked with several of the 26 other towns that have withdrawn from their school districts since 2013. Many have done so because, like Sebago, their town school was in danger of being closed, and they had a strong desire to give them control of the education of their kids and to preserve and foster the vitality of their community. Several of these towns who have successfully withdrawn from their districts and set up their own independent local schools sent letters of encouragement. Sebago residents Doug Newton, Donelle Allen, Mary MacKinnon, Claudia Lowe and Grover Newcomb read letters from the towns of Stratton/Eustis, Athens, Cherryfield and Andover.

Both Stockford and Eastman, as well as the committee, emphasized that the agreement that has been negotiated with SAD 61 and which has been conditionally approved by the Maine Department of Education is a fair agreement that benefits Sebago, and urged that voters approve it at the Nov. 7 referendum.

There were a number of questions from the audience about the potential cost of running our own school, the condition and age of the school building, Sebago’s obligation to SAD 61 debt service loans and when they would be paid off, starting a pre-kindergarten program in Sebago, moving Grade 6 back to Sebago, special education, renovations to the common room or addition of new rooms, etc. The mood of the crowd was supportive and orderly, and it was clear that people had come to learn more about the process.

Eastman explained that the town is now at Step 17 of a long 22-step process required by the Maine Department of Education. The next step will require approval by Sebago voters and, if successful, the process of establishing a Sebago School Administrative Unit may proceed, with its creation in July 2018.

The public hearing was concluded at 8:30 p.m. Eastman, Stockford and committee members urged voters to support this referendum article that will be on the Nov. 7 ballot. It reads as follows:

“Do you favor the withdrawal of the Town of Sebago from School Administrative District No. 61 subject to the terms and conditions of the withdrawal agreement dated July 20, 2017?”

 

 

 

 

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