EMBDEN — A committee tasked with exploring withdrawal from School Administrative District 74 is recommending that the community drop its efforts to leave the school district after mounting frustrations with the withdrawal process and little progress.

Residents will have a chance to vote on whether to continue the movement in a referendum Nov. 8 and are also invited to a public meeting at the Embden Town Office on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. to discuss.

“It’s been very difficult and at this point looks like something that won’t be easy to accomplish,” said Tim Wahler, chairman of the Embden Withdrawal Committee. “The response we received from (the school district) was very discouraging.”

Wahler said he couldn’t discuss the details of any push-back the committee has received from the school district in negotiations, but said that after presenting the district with a proposed withdrawal agreement, the district in May presented them with a counter offer after a long delay.

SAD 74 board of directors Chairwoman Bobbi Sue Harrington, however, said she was unaware of the negotiations and that the district has been cooperative in the process. Harrington, who took over as school board chairwoman in July, said the district hasn’t done any formal calculations of the cost effect if Embden were to leave.

“We are happy to keep the district as a whole, but if there are negotiations and things we need to figure out for Embden to withdraw, then we can do that as well down the line if Embden pursues it; but they haven’t been active in doing so at this point,” she said.

Wahler said the counteroffer from the district was not financially viable for Embden and that since then, things have stalled. “It seemed clear that they didn’t want to work on a solution with us,” he said.

Efforts by the town to leave SAD 74 started more than a year ago after residents there expressed frustration with the way school taxes are collected.

The town has a small student population, but because of higher property values, which serve as the basis for the state’s educational funding model, it does not receive the amount of state subsidy that other communities in the district do. SAD 74 also includes Anson, New Portland and Solon.

In 2015-2016, for example, Embden paid $1.6 million in school taxes and enrolled 111 students, or about $14,500 per student. In Anson, residents paid $1.4 million in school taxes and enrolled 331 students for a cost of $4,323 per student, according to district data.

In February, the district agreed to look into making an adjustment to the collection of additional local funds — tax revenue that is raised locally to supplement the state formula — but a proposal that would have lowered the tax rate for Embden and shifted some of the cost on to other towns, mainly Anson, was defeated in a referendum.

“It wasn’t received very well, so we’re kind of stuck,” Wahler said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of options.”

Wahler said the committee is recommending that the town drop the effort but said it is open to hearing people’s suggestions at the public meeting. He said that while Embden residents are largely happy with the quality of education in SAD 74, they are unhappy paying more in school taxes than their neighbors.

In addition, Wahler said some residents in Embden are unhappy about a recent decision by the board to charge tuition-paying students from the town of Athens less than what they pay and less than the maximum allowed under state law.

In August, the board voted to set tuition for Athens students at 80 percent of the state’s average per-pupil cost, according to Interim Superintendent Lyford Beverage. He said the lower tuition rate is a way of attracting students and generating income for the district that they otherwise might not get.

“I certainly wouldn’t dispute the people from Embden who look around and see another community that is not even in the district paying less,” Beverage said. “I can understand. Nevertheless, there are those people who say, ‘Hey, that’s $65,000,’ or whatever it turns out to be that’s additional revenue that we didn’t have. They are both legitimate points of view.”

When it comes to sending their own students out of the district for school, Wahler said the committee has been unable to find an affordable place within a reasonable distance that families have been happy with.

“We really don’t have a specific direction to go from here,” he said. “If people want to go back to the drawing board, we can use that as parameters for looking in other directions. It depends on what feedback we get. If anybody has better ideas, we want to hear them. Basically, we are all about saving money, but we don’t want to damage our children’s education.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.