Withdrawal questions raised, support voiced at hearing

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

SEBAGO — James Stevens knows firsthand the importance of keeping Sebago Elementary School.

His three daughters developed a strong educational foundation attending the little school building considered the “hub” of the rural community. The girls went on to be “A” students, attended college and enjoy success in their careers.

Now retired, Stevens will do whatever it takes to keep Sebago Elementary open.

“I will personally campaign to get the two-thirds,” he told the audience Monday night at a public hearing regarding Sebago’s possible withdrawal from SAD 61. “I believe our community would lose its heart if we lost our school. We need an elementary school here. I am 100% in favor of Sebago Elementary School.”

About 75 people attended the informational hearing as Withdrawal Committee consultant Dr. Mark Eastman gave an overview of the process, as well as what the committee and SAD 61 officials have agreed to in regards to a withdrawal agreement.

SAD 61 Chairman Janice Barter opened the hearing, and turned the presentation over to Eastman. Barter was joined at the head table by Superintendent of Schools Al Smith, along with the district’s attorney Dick Spencer, and SAD 61 administrative assistant Sarah Parsons. Several school board members were in the audience to hear the presentation, which lasted one hour, seven minutes.

Most people in attendance were older residents — few were parents of elementary-age students, which Withdrawal Committee secretary Allen Crabtree called “concerning” since it has been a trend since the group started its withdrawal work in February 2016.

Eastman’s agreement walk-through touched on key points:

  • If Sebago withdraws, it will create its own school system and its own school committee (likely a five-member board). “You will be your own boss of your own school system as of July 1, 2018,” he said.
  • Sebago has signed on with SAD 61 as its “school of guaranteed acceptance,” a mandate from the state that the town enter an agreement with another school system to enroll students in Grades 7–12. The Withdrawal Committee looked into several options, and decided to reach out to SAD 61. Sebago would pay tuition to SAD 61 to send students to Lake Region Middle and High Schools, at the state’s tuition rate (presently, $9,500).

Sebago’s school committee would decide whether to move Grade 6 back to SES, as well as whether to start a Pre-K program.

Another component is school choice for Grades 7–12. For the first five years of the 10-year pact, Sebago can offer school choice to 20% of its Grade 7–12 population, meaning about 20 students could opt to attend middle or high school elsewhere. The percentage increases to 25% over the final five years. Sebago’s school committee would address how those available slots are awarded.

  • If SAD 61 enters into construction projects at the middle or high schools, there would be a 10% surcharge to Sebago’s tuition rate.
  • Sebago would honor existing negotiated contracts of teachers and other staff that decide to remain at Sebago Elementary. Once the contracts expire, the new Sebago school system would negotiate new pacts. The new Sebago SAU will need to hire a superintendent.
  • One key question is what will it cost Sebago taxpayers if the town withdraws from SAD 61? Based on current costs and assessments, Sebago is scheduled to pay $3.1 million to SAD 61 this fiscal year. Eastman, who admits his projections are on the conservative side, believes the new school system would likely be in the $3.2 to $3.4 million range, since some additional money will be included as “contingency” as the new system is rolled out.
  • Since there were no proposed changes to the existing withdrawal agreement, it will be sent back to Maine’s commissioner of education, who will then set a final hearing date and keep the town on track to a possible referendum vote in early November, possibly election day. Withdrawal will require two-thirds of the votes cast.
  • Regarding the current state of the school building, Superintendent Smith said information regarding work completed at the facility will be made available.
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