Sebago sends SAD 61 a message — 340 sign petition to look at withdrawing

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

SEBAGO — For the past 15 years, Allen Crabtree has heard the whispers, too.

“I’ve been hearing for years that one way to cure all the financial ills SAD 61 has would be to close the school in Sebago,” Crabtree said. “When people here heard about the proposed major expansion at Crooked River, I think that was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.”

When local residents failed to receive any guarantee or major assurances that their community school would not be closed and their children transported to either Stevens Brook or the new Crooked River School, they decided to send their own message to SAD 61 administration.

A petition was signed by 340 residents on Election Day to start the wheels turning for possible withdrawal from SAD 61. Former school board director Richard Merritt and Sebago Budget Committee chairman Phil Lowe recently presented Sebago selectmen with the petition.

“The board of selectmen recognize that there is quite a level of support to do something,” said Crabtree, a former selectman who has a keen interest in what Sebago will do next.

So, selectmen will seek authorization to pull $25,000 from the Undesignated Fund Balance to be used toward expenses associated with studying and/or pursuing withdrawal. A special town meeting will be scheduled for January.

“People are not saying that they don’t support some type of solution to the overcrowding at Songo Locks School. They understand that something needs to be done to address this problem,” Crabtree said. “What they are saying is that this $9.6 million proposed project is bigger and more expensive than what is needed. They (the district) are overbuilding, which will provide the capacity to take on Sebago students and close this school.”

Crabtree, who has attended many past SAD 61 budget hearings, is hoping other district residents will also question the decision to move from a simple renovation suggested a year ago, which would make the Casco school functional in a short time span, to a major overhaul that would add a “real burden” onto area taxpayers.

A public hearing on the proposed project is scheduled next month.

Meanwhile, Friends of Sebago Elementary School are taking a serious look at whether their town would best be served by leaving SAD 61. Already, the group has talked with people from Raymond and Baldwin, who recently were involved in a withdrawal and school closure.

“Withdrawal is a long and involved process. There are 22 steps which will take 2 to 2½ years to complete,” Crabtree said.

Two major hurdles a town faces if it chooses to withdraw would be addressing debt owed to the school district — although Crabtree did not know the exact figure as to what Sebago would need to pay SAD 61 to leave, he termed that amount as “considerable” — and decide how their middle school and high school-aged students would be educated?

“Obviously, it would be very expensive to run our own school system. Even when we had Potter Academy, we had students come here from Baldwin, Denmark and (possibly) Standish,” Crabtree said. “The more likely scenario would be to look to neighboring school systems, such as Sacopee Valley or Bonny Eagle.”

While it would be a long time before Sebago reaches the final decision phase, Crabtree says residents are very serious about taking whatever steps necessary to keep their community school open.

SAD 61 Superintendent of Schools Al Smith and any school board member who makes the trip to Sebago this Tuesday at 6 p.m. to speak with the selectmen regarding the CRES project will likely find out just how serious folks are.

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