ROCKWOOD, Maine — The Rockwood Elementary School will close in June 2009 unless this Unorganized Territory community has an influx of school-age children.
Education Commissioner Susan Gendron told parents and staff in a letter this fall that the school would close because of the steady decline in enrollment. The school, which has a yearly operating cost of about $150,000, now serves two children in kindergarten through grade five.
“It’s economically not viable to keep a school open for two children,” Gendron said Friday. In addition, she said, it is important pupils have a social group and interaction.
Although the school will close, it will not be sold in the event more families with school-age children move to the community, Gendron said.
“We certainly don’t want to find ourselves in a spot that we don’t have a school to reopen,” she said. Gendron said the facility could be used for community gatherings.
The news was not good news for principal-teacher William Folsom.
“I expected it, but that doesn’t make it easy,” he said Friday. Folsom began teaching at the Rockwood school in 1988. After leaving the position to further his education and to work as superintendent of schools in Greenville and Ashland, Folsom returned to Rockwood to assume his current position. He was in that position when the new Rockwood school opened in 1991 when more than 10 children were enrolled.
“We have to face reality up here,” Folsom said. “It’s just the numbers.”
Anne Ehringhaus, whose daughter Marta Ehringhaus is a first-grade pupil in Rockwood, said the small school has played an important role in her family’s life. “For us it made it so much easier to belong to this community,” she said.
Ehringhaus said she sent Marta to the Greenville school last year where her sister attends high school but decided this year to enroll Marta at the Rockwood school.
“I can only say our child has blossomed,” she said.
She said that when the family settled in Rockwood, her children could not speak English and Folsom helped them to understand and speak the language. The quality of education her children receive at the Rockwood school is without question, she said.
If her younger child attends school in Greenville next year, Ehringhaus said, she would work to get a representative of the territory on the board so those parents could have a say in their children’s education.
For Jenny Mills of Pittston Farm, the closing of the school will mean her granddaughter will have about a 1½-hour drive to the Greenville school.
“We hate to see the school come to a close, but we can also understand, economically, with only two students it’s pretty hard,” Mills said Friday. Mills, whose son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren live with her and her husband, Robert, in Pittston Township, have about a 20-mile commute to the Rockwood school from Pittston Farm and will have a 40-mile commute to Greenville.
It used to be that the state would reimburse parents who have lengthy commutes to the bus stop, but the Legislature passed a law last session that forbid the state from continuing that, according to Gendron. The Legislature felt that was the parents’ responsibility.
Gendron said children in the Unorganized Territory have a choice. If parents choose to send their children to the Jackman school 30 miles away, they must transport them at their cost. The state will provide a bus only from Rockwood to the Greenville schools. It also will pay the tuition costs billed by the school the child attends.
Parents were aware last year that the state would be looking at the enrollment numbers for the continuation of the school. Since the law requires that parents receive a year’s notice of a school closing, letters announcing the decision to close the school were mailed to them in late September.
“It’s never easy when you’re looking at a situation like this,” Gendron said.