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Liberty divided on whether to leave RSU 3 school district due to financial concerns

Supporters of the proposal say it could lower property taxes, but some town officials worry cutting ties with the district would close schools.

LIBERTY, Maine — The small Waldo County town of Liberty is divided over whether to leave the RSU 3 school district and form its own independent school district.

The question will head to voters this November following a petition submitted by Andre Blanchard and signed by more than 50 others.

Blanchard, who recently stepped down from his seat on the Liberty Select Board, said his plan will help students.

“Their children would get a better education in the end,” Blanchard said Tuesday.

Many residents in Liberty were also drawn to support the petition to leave for financial reasons. As a result of the state’s school funding formula and appraisal of property taxes, taxpayers in Liberty pay more for education than any of the other 10 towns that make up RSU 3. This, combined with the fact that Liberty has a relatively small student body, has further added to the push to leave.

Blanchard believes an independent district would mean a benefit for the town. 

“It would directly relate to a reduction in our property taxes, specifically tied to the amount we pay to the school district," Blanchard.

But others are less than convinced. Nicole Gates, the Liberty town administrator, believes leaving RSU 3 could negatively impact students in town.  

“General consensus is likely if we withdraw, the district will close Walker School, and that would be unfortunate,” Gates said Tuesday.

Her argument has to do with enrollment numbers, which would drop at Walker School if Liberty withdrew, likely leading the district to close the campus—impacting more than just Liberty.

Eleanor Hess, the chair of the RSU 3 school board, wrote in a statement, “Should Liberty pursue its withdrawal, RSU 3 will feel this divorce, the separation of these friendships.”

Even if Liberty votes in favor of leaving the district, dozens of agreements would have to be signed off on before the move can fully take effect.

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