LUBEC, Maine — Voters will have an opportunity Tuesday to voice their opinions on the fate of their high school.
Former SAD 19 board member Diana Wilson said Wednesday the expected high turnout in next week’s general election makes it a good time to poll the community on whether the high school should be closed.
But board member Eleody Libby said Wednesday town residents have not had time to review information recently collected by the school study committee, which the board created last year to consider the future of the high school. Libby is co-chairwoman of the study committee, along with Wilson. Other members include teachers and parents.
Lubec’s high school has 42 students, four classroom teachers, and one each for art and physical education teachers. There also are a principal and special education coordinator.
Over the past few months, the study committee has collected information on operating the high school versus the cost of sending students to another school. The committee planned to report its findings to the school board the Thursday after the general election, then hold a public meeting so that people could review the report. The school board then would schedule the vote on the future of the high school at the same time in December that residents will vote on the town’s projected alternative organization structure, which was demanded by the state as part of its regionalization of central offices for schools.
Closing the high school has been talked about for years in Lubec, but nothing has been done.
With the study committee’s findings complete, Wilson suggested putting the question before voters on Tuesday because it would coincide with the presidential election.
The committee disagreed. “They wanted to have another public meeting and they wanted this and they wanted that,” Wilson said.
She said the committee was dragging its feet so she decided to put the question out there. Wilson came up with the wording on the nonbinding advisory question: ”Do you favor the consideration of the MSAD 19 school board to close the high school next year?”
Also included on the ballot is a statement about the cost of operating the high school next year. “Based on the current budget, the additional cost of keeping the high school open this year (2008-09) is estimated to be $57,291,” the ballot said. The ballots were printed and Wilson even paid to have them mailed to people who vote absentee.
Town officials said Friday they are considering the advisory question an “exit poll.”
Wilson said given the expected large voter turnout Tuesday, the school board would have a greater cross section of townspeople deciding the fate of the high school. “It’s a controversial election and a lot of people are coming out,” she said of the general election.
Whatever voters decide would be fine with her, Wilson said. “I just feel there will be more citizens who have a vote and you will know how they feel,” she said. Wilson said she did not understand delaying the vote until December when there might be fewer voters.
Libby said the committee was not dragging its feet. She said study committee members believed the public needed time to examine the results of the report. “If it comes that they want to close the school or don’t want to close the school, people still need this information,” she said.
An unanswered question is what happens if more people vote Tuesday to close the school while a smaller number vote in December to keep it open. Libby said it would send a conflicting message. “I can only speak for me [not the whole school board or study committee]; I don’t know what to do with that,” she said.
In the meantime, the vote is going forward. People who voted absentee at the town office were handed the yellow ballot along with the ballots for the federal and state elections. The school advisory exit poll ballot was placed in a separate envelope from the general election ballots.
Town Clerk Betty Case said last week that on Election Day, voters will be given all of the ballots, including the school advisory exit poll.
Once they have voted, residents will deposit their general election ballots in a locked box in the town office under the eyes of the polling booth workers. Voters then will take their yellow school exit poll question and place it in a separate locked box in the fire bay under the watchful eyes of polling booth workers. The fire bay is next to the town office.
Ballots for the federal, state and local elections will be counted once the polls close Tuesday night; the school exit poll will be counted on Nov. 7, the town clerk said.