Maine’s highest court will now decide whether the seasonal community of Frye Island can withdraw from its local school district and take $1.5 million in annual funding with it.

The Sebago Lake island community seceded from Standish in 1997. It has remained a part of Maine School Administrative District 6, but does not send any students. Still, the town pays school taxes every year based on property values, and that funding has been disputed for years.

Two years ago, Frye Island voters approved a ballot measure to begin the withdrawal process from Bonny Eagle school district. However, the district argues that state law specifically bars Frye Island from leaving.

Frye Island is the only town in Maine specifically prevented by state statute from leaving its school district, a provision imposed after the town seceded from Standish. But the town argues that prohibition is both unconstitutional and no longer in effect.

The Cumberland County Superior Court sided with the district, and the town appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Oral arguments took place Monday.

Sara Murphy, the attorney for Frye Island and its residents, argued in part that newer laws implicitly repealed the 2001 statute that blocked the town’s withdrawal from the school district.

“The question before the court this afternoon is whether Frye Island and its residents may engage in the same municipal withdrawal process available to every other municipality and resident in the state of Maine,” Murphy said.

Agnieszka Dixon, the lawyer for the school district, argued that the 2001 statute still stands. She said the Maine Legislature could change the law to allow Frye Island to withdraw, but it has not chosen to do so.

“The Superior Court saw this litigation for what it is – another chapter in Frye Island’s repeated attempts to be relieved from contributing to SAD 6’s finances,” Dixon said.

While most Maine school districts assess member communities based on the number of students enrolled, SAD 6 uses property valuation as the basis for determining how much each community contributes to education costs. Frye Island – a seasonal community of more than 500 homes and fewer than 200 registered voters – contributed more than $1.5 million to the school district in the 2017-2018 school year.

SAD 6 also includes the towns of Buxton, Hollis, Limington and Standish.

The justices asked both attorneys about the timing, wording and intent of laws passed in the last 20 years related to Frye Island specifically and Maine public schools generally.

The court has no timetable to make its decision.

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