SAD 4 board to consider closing school

Posted Feb. 11, 2009, at 6:40 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:02 a.m.

GUILFORD, Maine — A proposed plan to move grade eight to Piscataquis Community High School in 2010 and to close McKusick Elementary School in 2011 was advanced to SAD 4 directors Tuesday by Superintendent Paul Stearns.

Faced with shrinking enrollment, limited state subsidy, a weak economy and a class size imbalance, Stearns said bold moves have to be made to continue quality programming for students.

“The entire proposal is designed around maintaining the most efficient delivery of programs,” Stearns said. It also allows for growth or further consolidation.

The district is faced this year with a gap of about $605,000, the superintendent said. That gap includes an anticipated $133,000 penalty for rejecting a school reorganization plan, an expected $77,000 state budget curtailment, and an estimated $175,000 loss from declining high school enrollment. In addition, a year-to-year increase of $220,000 is needed to cover rising costs.

A similar gap is expected in 2011, Stearns said Tuesday.

The restructuring plan would eliminate four positions and require some in-house changes the first year for a saving of about $251,000. The school closing the second year and the elimination of an administrator, teacher, secretary, custodian and part-time transportation administrator would create a savings of about $254,000.

The potential benefits of these changes are many, according to the superintendent, who cited reduced travel, better use of teachers, expanded programming, and a possible collaboration with the Harmony School.

While Harmony officials have not yet been approached, Stearns said the possibility exists for an agreement to allow SAD 4 elementary pupils who live close to Harmony to attend that school. In exchange, the district could take Harmony pupils who want to attend SAD 4 schools, but the numbers would have to be equivalent, he said.

Should directors vote to close the school and district residents support the move, it would be the fifth school closed in the district since 1995. In 1995, the Abbot Elementary School was closed and in 2001, the Cambridge, Wellington and Sangerville elementary schools were closed.

Because the district rejected a regional reorganization proposal, it appears to outsiders the district is against consolidation, when in fact, the district has been a leader in consolidation and a model of efficiency over the years, Stearns said earlier this week. Instead of the haphazard way of the state’s effort, the district has consolidated the right way and for the right reasons, he said. “Maintaining or adding programming for students by using our dollars more effectively, that’s what it’s all about,” Stearns stated.

Despite these efficient moves, the district will be penalized each year by about $133,000, which will be given to richer and less consolidated school districts, Stearns said. Had the regional reorganization effort been approved, the district’s increased costs would have been more than the state penalty, he said.

Faced with the penalty, curtailment and other reduced revenues that rural districts receive, the district must continue to cut from within, according to Stearns.

The kindergarten and grade one McKusick school has a population of 93 pupils, only 16 of whom are from Parkman.

If the Parkman school closed, the Guilford Primary School would serve kindergarten and grade one, and one wing of the Piscataquis Community Middle School would become home to grades two, three and four and another wing home to grades five, six and seven.

Moving grade eight to the high school would increase the enrollment there to 276, the superintendent said. Grade eight was in the high school in 1969 but was moved later to the middle school, he said. While Stearns said the middle school is ideal for the inclusion of second- and third-grade pupils, the move of the eighth grade to high school would pose some issues.

The average total student load at PCHS is 65 students per teacher but averaging that number per class results in a student-teacher ratio of about 12-1, almost the ratio found in private schools, according to Stearns.

Stearns said Tuesday the board could embrace or reject the proposed plan during budget deliberations. If embraced, public hearings will be held. Since the school houses children from the district, the district would vote on the proposed closing. Those towns that vote to keep it open would be required to pay the additional cost of keeping the school open in addition to their annual assessments.

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