2014-01-31 / Front Page

Voters reject school bonds

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

“The challenge will now be to develop a plan acceptable to voters,” said Andrew Dolloff, superintendent of Regional School Unit 21, following Tuesday’s decisive referendum vote.

With a voter turnout of more than 7,000, voters in all three towns voted down Articles 1 and 2.

“We were pleased with the voter turnout. Certainly the word got out and the importance of it to the community and I’m glad of that,” Dolloff said.

Article 1 asked voters whether they were in favor of issuing bonds and notes over 25 years to help subsidize a sizable renovation of three district schools at a price of approximately $75 million.

The votes were broken down as follows: Arundel, 255 yes, 728 no; Kennebunk 1,303, yes, 3,118 no; Kennebunkport 582 yes and 1,024 no.

Article 2 asked voters if they favored the authorization – through the RSU 21 board of directors – to issue bonds and notes not exceeding approximately $1.8 million through Maine’s Revolving Renovation Fund Program for Priority 1 health and safety repairs or improvements at any of the three schools to be renovated.

In Arundel, 399 yes, 580 voted no; Kennebunk, 1,994 yes, 2,407 no; and Kennebunkport, 835 yes, 770 no.

The voter turnout in Arundel capped at 33 percent, 984 voters, total; Kennebunk’s voter turnout was 49 percent, 4,424 voters; Kennebunkport’s voter turnout was 63 percent, 1,610 voters.

“I think it was a very good turnout (for Arundel),” said Arundel Town Clerk Simone Boissonneault, who added that 500- 600 voters at a local referendum was typical.

In Kennebunkport, Town Clerk April Du- foe said voter turnout was higher than it’s been for the last 14 years – excluding November – at least “since I’ve been clerk and have been keeping the records.”

Dufoe, along with Boissonneault and Kennebunk Town Clerk Joanna Moran, publicly and independently spoke against a Jan. 21 referendum during at least two public hearings held by the school board in the months preceding the vote.

“We’ve only voted one other time in January and, again, it was a school election and there was a six percent voter turnout,” Dufoe said. “The towns would never put anything before the voters in January – you just don’t do that.”

“I had more absentee ballots for this election than I had for the 2012 presidential election,” Dufoe said of the 890 absentee ballots cast.

Such an impressive and decisive voter turnout, said Dolloff, gives the school board an idea of where the voters stand and will help with the direction of the renovation proposal in the future.

“I think it gives the board and the building committees some direction in how we’re going to have to adjust these plans before going out for a second referendum,” Dolloff said.

“These plans were not over the top, or extravagant; they are addressing some significant structural needs in all three buildings,” Dolloff said. “It will be a challenge to come up with a plan that the voters will approve, but we will have to go back out – these buildings are in desperate need of upgrading.”

The renovation proposal stirred palpable controversy and contention in all three towns. Many residents accused the school board of censorship on social media outlets and at school board pubic forums in the weeks and days leading up to the vote.

These claims, Dolloff said, “are certainly unfounded. These board members, they’re good people, they’re ethical people. They understand the law and the requirement, and they are open and forthright in their discussions and sharing of information,” Dolloff said. “It was a highly emotionally charged campaign, but certainly nobody has come forward or gone to any authoritative source to say that there was any type of deception taking place. All of the information is right there on our website – all of it has been shared.

“I think the board has directed me as superintendent to ensure that we are following not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law in making sure we attempt to answer every question with factual information.”

Kennebunk High School Principal Sue Cressey said although she is disappointed with the outcome of the referendum, “I respect the process and am glad the turnout was what it was.”

“We have facility needs at Kennebunk High School, and we need to come together as a community to meet those needs if we are to continue to meet the high academic standards that the community expects,” Cressey said.

In the meantime, “A large part of my job will continue to focus on day-to-day facility needs. In short, we will keep patching the building together,” Cressey said. “I hope that we can go back to the voters soon before we pay more to get less. As always, the faculty and staff are to be commended for the fine job that they do to educate our students in spite of what often seems like insurmountable odds.”

Another referendum vote will be placed in front of the voters, but not for at least six months, Dolloff said. “The earliest we could get another referendum out would be June, but that would be a challenging timeline. November would be another opportunity. I would anticipate that we would get out with a plan similar to these that is comprehensive.”

Want to comment on this story? Visit our website at www.post.mainelymediallc.com and let us know your thoughts.

Return to top