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Maine School Administrative District No. 6 v. Inhabitants of The Town of Frye Island

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

April 30, 2019

MAINE SCHOOL ADMINISTRATIVE DISTRICT NO. 6, Plaintiff
v.
INHABITANTS OF THE TOWN OF FRYE ISLAND, Defendant

          ORDER

          Thomas D. Warren, Justice, Superior Court

          Before the court are cross motions for summary judgment by defendant Town of Frye Island and plaintiff Maine School Administrative District No. 6. Interveners James Hodge and Ed Rogers join in Frye Island's motions.[1]

         As the court has previously noted, this case involves the latest chapter of a two decades-long dispute relating to Frye Island's attempt to withdraw from MSAD 6, This dispute was previously the subject of litigation a decade ago. See Town of Frye Island v. State, 2008 ME 27, 940 A.2d 1065.

         The background to this action, as set forth in the Law Court's 2008 decision, is that Frye Island is a summer community that shuts down from November through April every year. 2008 ME 27 ¶ 2. Although a member of MSAD 6, Frye Island has no school age children who reside on the island during the school year and no residents of the island have ever attended MSAD 6 schools. Id. As a result, Frye Island is seeking to be relieved from contributing to MSAD 6's finances.

         Factual and Statutory Background

         The facts, as derived from Frye Island's uncontroverted statement of material facts and from the relevant statutes, are undisputed.[2]

         Prior to 1997 Frye Island was part of the Town of Standish. In 1997 Frye Island sought to secede from Standish and become an independent municipality. A memorandum of understanding was reached between Frye Island and Standish in which Standish agreed to remain neutral regarding proposed legislation allowing Frye Island to secede so long as, among other conditions, Frye Island remained part of MS AD 6 and continued to contribute to its support. The memorandum provided that the bill of secession adequately addressed this condition. See Frye Island SMF ¶¶ 1-2; Exhibit A to Braun affidavit; 2008 ME 27 ¶ 3.

         The Legislature thereafter enacted the bill of secession as private and special legislation. P. & S. L. 1997, ch. 41 ("Secession Law"). That statute included a provision that Frye Island "remains in School Administrative District 6 or its successor and pays its proportional share of costs, unless or until such time as it withdraws from the school administrative district in accordance with applicable state law." Id. § A-8.

         Secession was approved by a majority of Frye Island voters and took effect on July 1, 1998. Frye Island SMF ¶ 3; P & S. L. 1997, ch. 41 § A-3.

          Thereafter Frye Island adopted a charter effective January 1, 1999 which created and defined its municipal government. Frye Island SMF ¶ 12. Article IV of the charter contained language consistent with section A-8 of the Secession Law, stating that Frye Island would remain in MS AD 6 and pay its proportional share of the costs "unless or until such time as it withdraws from the school administrative district in accordance with applicable state law." Frye Island SMF ¶ 16; Exhibit B to Braun Affidavit.

         In 2000 Frye Island residents voted unanimously to withdraw from MSAD 6 pursuant to the provisions of then-existing 20-A M.R.S. § 1405. Frye Island SMF ¶ 17.

         In response, the Legislature passed, as emergency legislation, "An Act to Clarify the Act of Separation of Frye Island from the Town of Standish." P & S.L. 2001, ch. 8, alternatively referred to as L.D. 500. See Town of Frye Island v. State, 2008 ME 27 ¶ 6.

         L.D. 500 amended P.& S.L. 1997, ch. 41 § A-8 by restating that Frye Island would remain in MSAD 6 and pay its proportional share of costs and deleting the words "unless or until such time as it withdraws from the school administrative district in accordance with applicable state law." It further amended P.& S.L. 1997, ch. 41 by adding the following provision:

Authorization required. Notwithstanding any withdrawal proceedings initiated or completed pursuant to the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 20-A, section 1405 prior to the effective date of this section, or any subsequent action taken by the Town of Frye Island, the Town of Frye Island is a part of and may not withdraw from School Administrative District 6 or its successor unless such withdrawal is first authorized by further amendment to this chapter.

P & S.L. 2001, ch. 8 § 2.

         In 2004 the Legislature established a new formula for allocating the cost of education between municipalities according to the percentage of students from each municipality. Under this formula Frye Island's contribution to MSAD 6 would have been reduced to zero. 2008 ME 27 ¶ 7. In early 2005, however, as part of legislation addressing education financing the Legislature enacted a provision expressly exempting municipalities in MSAD 6 and MSAD 44 from the new cost allocation formula. P.L. 2005 ch. 2, § D-69.

         In 2005 Frye Island filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of both L. D. 500 and the legislation exempting MSAD 6 from the new cost allocation formula. The Superior Court (Delahanty, J.) decided the case on an agreed statement of facts and rejected the various constitutional challenges raised by Frye Island. Town of Frye Island v. State, No. CV-05-712, 2007 Me. Super. LEXIS 124 (June 28, 2007).

         Frye Island appealed. Because the statute addressing withdrawal from school districts, 20-A M.R.S. § 1405, had been repealed in the meantime, the Law Court decided that Frye Island's constitutional challenges to L.D. 500 were moot. At the same time it affirmed the decision below in rejecting Frye Island's constitutional challenges to the statutory exemption of MSAD 6 from the new formula for educational cost allocation. Town of Frye Island v. State, 2007 ME 27 ¶¶ 11-12, 13-17 &n.4.

         In 2009 the Legislature enacted a new statutory process for municipalities to withdraw from school administrative districts. P.L. 2009, ch. 590 § 9, codified at 20-A M.R.S. § 1466.

         In October 2017 the residents of Frye Island voted in favor of filing a petition for Frye Island's withdrawal from MSAD 6 pursuant to 20-A M.R.S. § 1466. Frye Island SMF ¶ 17. In January 2018 the municipal officers of Frye Island ordered a special election on a proposed amendment to Article IV of Frye Island's charter. Frye Island ...


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