Sebago votes to withdraw from SAD 61

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A sign in Sebago encouraging voters to support withdrawal from SAD 61. Voters signed off on withdrawal by a vote of 464-167.

SEBAGO — Voters have decided to withdraw from SAD 61 and form their own school administrative unit based around Sebago Elementary School.

The 464-167 vote in favor of withdrawal surpassed the two-thirds threshold needed for the effort to proceed. Of the 631 people who voted on the withdrawal question, more than 73 percent voted in favor.

A withdrawal agreement had already been worked out between Sebago and SAD 61 as part of the 22-step school process laid out by the state.

Sebago Elementary will remain part of SAD 61 through July 1, 2018. For the first 10 years of that agreement, most Sebago students will be tuitioned to SAD 61 after elementary school for middle and high school (6th-12th grades).

The withdrawal effort was spurred in part over concerns that SAD 61 would shut down the town elementary school, which has about 90 K-5 students.

Jessica MacVicar said both of her children previously attended Sebago Elementary and she felt it was important for Sebago to “have control over our school.”

“I think coming together as a community, we can rock it,” MacVicar said Tuesday after voting to withdraw.

Donelle Allen, who said Tuesday she was involved in the Friends of Sebago Elementary School group that supported the withdrawal, felt that the town will be able to support the school on its own.

“I have no qualms about Sebago being able to run our own school,” said Allen, who attended the school,where her mother was also a teacher.

Allen also said she had “no doubt” that the SAD 61 board would have voted to shut the school down if the withdrawal vote was unsuccessful.

While the withdrawal question passed with more than 73 percent approval, there were residents who didn’t support the effort to leave SAD 61.

“We can’t afford this,” said Michael Borsetti after he voted no on Tuesday. “We couldn’t afford the tax increase.”

An information sheet provided at a public hearing in September by those in favor of withdrawal said Sebago now pays about $3.1 million to $3.3 million each year to the district, and projects that costs after withdrawal could be “about the same.” The information sheet concedes that Sebago could see about a 4 percent increase in costs initially when funding its own school district.

Resident Kate Blackmore did not seem strongly against the withdrawal proposal, but said she voted no “mostly because I know it’s an old school” and she wasn’t sure the town would be able to afford the cost of its upkeep. She also predicted correctly after voting that the withdrawal question would pass.

Under the withdrawal agreement, Sebago would still be responsible for some SAD 61 costs – including a share of existing debt from district construction projects and a share of future debt from projects at the middle school and high school.

Tim Mayberry, a member of both the Sebago Selectboard and the Withdrawal Committee that was created after a town vote in February 2016, said Tuesday that working with SAD 61 on the withdrawal hadn’t always been easy, but that the talks improved over time.

“At the end of if, they were excellent. At the beginning, they were not good,” Mayberry said about SAD 61.

SAD 61 Superintendent Al Smith acknowledged the process has had its challenges.

“It’s been a long, tedious process – to be honest,” Smith said Wednesday.

He also said the arrangement for Sebago to tuition most of its 6-12 grade students to SAD 61 will be “very positive.”

“It is what it is, and we’ll work as well as we can moving forward,” Smith said about the continued relationship between the district and Sebago. “I think we will still work very well together.”

He also said “the vote did not surprise me.”

Principal Kirsten Goff said she’s “looking at this an an opportunity” and expects the school to “make wonderful things continue to happen for the kids in Sebago.”

Goff, who is in her ninth year at the school and lives in Standish, expects to have a normal working relationship with SAD 61 for the remainder of the school year.

“We are still SAD 61 employees for the rest of the year,” she said.

“The town really likes what we do here, and they didn’t want to risk losing it,” Goff said.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

A sign in Sebago encouraging voters to support withdrawal from SAD 61. Voters signed off on withdrawal by a vote of 464-167.

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