Thursday, May 29, 2014

It's all about "community"

I've lived in Freeport for more than 40 years. I wasn't born here so I can't claim to be a native but I think my longevity here gives me some standing as a citizen and, more important, as a member of the community. It's the community that I want to talk about.

I've lived practically my entire adult life here; I've paid taxes, gone to PTA meetings, attended town council sessions, helped establish the youth football program, supported the local Boy Scouts and Little League, worked in the local hardware store, supported local businesses, and tried to be a good neighbor. There have been lots of changes in the town since I moved here in 1971 but there is one thing that has not changed: the "Freeport community" has always encompassed the neighboring towns of Pownal and Durham. Three separate towns, yes, but one "community".

Freeport Community Services is a wonderful organization that enriches the lives and provides assisatance to the residents of all three towns; likewise the Freeport Community Library is a wonderful resource that serves residents of Durham and Pownal as well as Freeport; there is even a local newspaper, the Tri-Town Weekly, devoted to providing coverage of news and events in the three towns that comprise the "Freeport community". My sons attended Freeport schools and had friends and classmates from Pownal and Durham. The residents of Durham and Pownal work in Freeport and shop in Freeport. Freeport, Pownal and Durham are three separate entities in terms of municipality but I would argue that they are one in terms of community. Which brings us to the movement afoot for Freeport to withdraw from RSU-5 and go it alone in the education of our children.

Some background is needed here. Freeport has always maintained a school system to provide education from kindergarten through high school. My sons went to Holbrook Street School for their early education, attended Mast Landing and Freeport Middle School during their formative years, and graduated from Freeport High School. Their experience was enriched by the presence of classmates from Durham and Pownal as part of the Freeport School System community. This "community" was formalized when the State mandated that local communities consolidate their educational resources to form "Regional School Units" as an efficiency measure, and RSU-5 was born.

RSU-5 resulted from the formal consolidation of the school systems of Freeport, Pownal and Durham into one entity which incorporated the facilities of the three towns into one entity devoted to the education of students from all three towns. The objective was to ensure that all students from the three separate towns enjoyed access to a quality education, and that the citizens of the three towns would have a voice in how that education was funded. The experiment got off to a pretty good start but recently it has foundered because of budget issues; the citizens of Pownal and Durham balked at approving expenses favored by many citizens of Freeport and all of a sudden the wheels started coming off.

A group of Freeport citizens who were incensed that they had not gotten their way in the budget vote organized a movement to have Freeport withdraw from RSU-5, which is their right. They are well organized and well financed, so their efforts led to an initial vote to have the town "explore" withdrawal. State law mandates several steps to be negotiated prior to a second vote to complete the process for a town to withdraw from an RSU, and the committees negotiating the process are apparently hung up on one critical issue: if Freeport withdraws from the RSU, will it be the "school of record" for students from Pownal and Durham? Incredibly, the withdrawal committee is balking at answering "yes" to this question!

Which gets us back to the concept of "community".  It seems strange to me that we would turn our backs on the children of our neighboring towns and say "sorry, there's no room for you here". It seems even stranger that we would deprive Freeport students of the diversity and richness of experience that derives from broadening the student base beyond the town boundaries. The folks favoring withdrawal from the RSU may very well have compelling arguments in their favor but I can't believe that "we don't have room for students from Pownal and Durham" is one of them.

So I say this to my fellow Freeporters: withdraw from RSU-5 if you feel you must (I will vote against it) but please don't turn your backs on any of the children of the "Freeport Community", which includes students from Durham and Pownal. Freeport must be the "school of record" for our neighbors because if we abandon our "community" what are we teaching our children?

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