Voters on Friday voted by an 8-to-1 margin to begin taking steps to withdraw from Maine School Administrative District 49. The move comes as a result of the district’s plan to close three of its elementary schools, including Albion Elementary School, and consolidate them in a new school in Benton.  Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

ALBION — Residents on Friday voted overwhelmingly — by an 8-to-1 margin — to support starting a process to leave Maine School Administrative District 49. The vote was 184-23.

This vote means the town will form a negotiating committee and begin the 22-step process outlined by the Department of Education for withdrawal, but this does not necessarily mean the town will actually withdraw from the district, which currently includes Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield.

At any part in the negotiating process the committee can decide it is not feasible for Albion to leave the district and end the process. Even if the committee negotiates an agreement with the district to withdraw, there will need to be another town meeting vote to give final approval.

In addition to forming the negotiating committee, the referendum authorizes the committee to spend up to $45,000 on the process, to be used to hire assistance from experts like lawyers and educational consultants.

The idea of withdrawing from the district came up when MSAD 49 began the process of building a new school, and the board of directors voted to consolidate Fairfield Primary School, Albion Elementary School and Clinton Elementary School — meaning those three schools will close and students would instead travel to the new building in Benton.

This will mean longer bus rides for younger students, and residents have argued that the community feel of the Albion Elementary School can’t be replicated in a larger building.

Organizers have also said this will increase the tax burden on Albion residents, because they will have to help pay for the new building, while making their town less attractive to people moving to the area, as the schools would be farther away. Residents have also expressed frustration about their tax dollars going to support Benton, instead of staying in Albion.

Although there are no concrete details yet about what it would look like if the town left the district, it would likely mean the town would set up its own school district to run Albion Elementary School for younger students. Once students age out of the elementary school, families could choose a nearby district to attend for the upper grades.

At a hearing on the withdrawal issue last month, residents in attendance were largely in support of the plan to withdraw, and seemed eager for the negotiating committee to begin work and iron out what an Albion-only school system could look like.

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