MONSON, Maine — SAD 68 directors were asked Wednesday to delay their consideration of closing the Monson Elementary School for a year to allow residents the time to research options that might be available to them.
“I just feel like this process has been very fast,” Town Manager Julie Anderson told directors Wednesday during an informational meeting at the Monson school.
The district has considered closing the Monson school at other times over the years but because of declining enrollment, the projected loss of revenue and escalating costs, the issue is now on the front burner. Directors are expected to decide the fate of the school at their Tuesday, March 3 meeting.
About 60 residents packed the school to listen as Superintendent Ann Bridge presented a bleak outlook for the district in terms of funding. The school had to make “pretty radical” cuts last year that amounted to $650,000, she said. Directors eliminated the curriculum coordinator budget and reduced the superintendent’s position to 60 percent, among other changes, she said. Directors cut too deeply and they can’t do that again, Bridge said.
“We know for certain that we’re going to receive less money than last year [from the state],” Bridge said, because the funding formula takes enrollment into account. “We have steady declines going on.”
The budget problems necessitate taking another look at closing the school, she said.
“Now is the time, in my opinion, for the board to make a clear decision,” Bridge said. “It’s a window of necessity rather than opportunity. There’s no real opportunity for the district to give Monson one more year.”
Should directors vote next week to close the school, residents will have the option to keep it open during a referendum vote. If they vote to keep it open, the town would pay the $265,397 operational cost in addition to its annual assessment.
Asked if Monson’s elementary children could be tuitioned elsewhere, Bridge said parents can send their children where they wish if they want to pay the tuition. The elementary tuition cost is $7,240 in Greenville; $6,244 in Guilford, and $6,080 in SAD 68, Bridge said. If the students were tuitioned to Shirley Elementary School, the price would be $7,200 but Shirley’s actual cost of educating elementary children is $18,000 per elementary child because the enrollment is so small.
“I know there are feelings of sadness in the room about the potential demise of a landmark in this small town; I know what the loss of a school means in a town which has a rich heritage,” Bridge said.
Resident Doug Kane urged the directors to postpone the closing for a year. “We have had a very short time to digest this,” he said.