Do we stay or do we go?

SACO – Yes or no, up or down, in or out – on election day, the citizens of Saco will vote and decide whether or not they want to remain as part of Regional School Unit 23. For more than a year groups on both sides of the issue have been posturing and working toward a resolution. Saco voted in July, 2012 to create a Withdrawal Committee and see if it made sense to form a municipal school district.

Almost from the first city council meeting where the issue was discussed, proponents on both sides of the question seemed to dig in their heals and defend their position. Patrick Phillips, the current superintendent of RSU23 has stated publicly, many times, the RSU is doing a good job and now would not be the right time to abandon all of the work that has been done.

On the other side of the issue, Vangel Cotsis, has made claims that inclusion in the RSU is more expensive and does not provide the children of the Saco with the best educational opportunities. But what makes these claims complicated is not the fact that Cotsis is the father of 3 school-aged children and lives in Saco, but rather, that he is a member of the board of trustees for Thornton Academy.  

Thornton Academy is an independent town academy and all of the students in Saco, Dayton, and Arundel view TA as their high school. Many have claimed that Cotsis’ position on the board colors his perspective on the issue.

In some ways, Cotsis and those who agree with him want to return to the form of municipal school government that existed before the RSU.

When the state moved to consolidate school districts, Saco, Dayton, and Old Orchard Beach were grouped together to form a single unit. Prior to the consolidation, the people in Old Orchard Beach had their own school district and the citizens in Saco and Dayton were part of a separate, neighboring district (SAD 5).

Now, more than three years later, there are claims by citizens and politicians alike that the system is broken, doomed to failure, and is not living up to the promises made by the Department of Education.

During the past week, the Portland accounting firm of Purdy Powers & Company provided the city and the RSU Withdrawal Committee with an independent analysis of the expenses associated with the RSU.

In a memo to the Saco City council and the citizens of Saco, Cheryl Fournier, the city’s finance director, wrote this about the report she received:

The key question to be answered in this analysis was whether or not it would increase or decrease expenses for Saco to withdraw from RSU23. The independently confirmed results yield a savings from withdrawing from the RSU rather than a cost.
 The savings in comparison to the FY2014 local assessment will be FY20 15 – $447,962, FY2016 -$623,834, and FY2017 – $302,198 for a cumulative total of $1,373,994 for all three years.

Purdy Powers & Company also released a second financial report estimating the city would incur additional expenses of more than $5 million if it remains part of the RSU. In their estimation, it simply would cost more to stay.

I am sure this will only add to the heated discussions about withdrawing from the RSU. How many days until the election?


David Arenstam

About David Arenstam

Originally from away, but here to stay - Maine is my home and I love writing stories about the people and places from my end of the state. I am a teacher and writer and my first novel, "Homecoming: A Soldier's Story of Loyalty, Courage, and Redemption" is available now at