CHERRYFIELD, Maine — Once again, the SAD 37 school board has voted to close the elementary schools in Cherryfield and Columbia Falls.
The board vote on Monday was scheduled after questions arose about the vote the board had taken in December, according to Superintendent David Beal. The original vote had been postponed because of a snowstorm, and some residents questioned whether the board had provided proper notice of the change to the date in December.
“In order to clear that up if it ever was challenged, the board redid the vote,” Beal said Tuesday.
The vote would close the two schools at the end of this school year, a move the district board estimates would save the district more than $700,000. The SAD board had planned to close the school last year, but selectmen in Cherryfield and Columbia Falls raised questions about the estimated savings and whether the vote in 2008 was proper given that the school consolidation law had repealed sections of existing school law relating to school unions and districts.
Faced with that opposition, and the need to prepare a budget for the coming year, the board voted last spring to keep the schools open for one more year.
Beal said the reasons for closing the schools are based on costs and the declining numbers of pupils in the schools. Some of the schools in SAD 37, which also serves the towns of Addison, Harrington, Milbridge and Columbia, are running double grades because of the low pupil population.
“Educationally, we’d like to get a single teacher per grade,” he said.
He noted that the loss of general purpose aid from the state also played a role in the board’s decision.
“It’s going to be a struggle to keep five elementary schools running,” he said.
Beal said the estimated savings came directly from the actual expenditures in the 2007-08 school year, which had been audited. Although the numbers are accurate, he said, by the time the schools close, the estimates will be 2 years old. It is likely that the actual savings will be different, he said.
The results of the vote will be forwarded to officials in the two towns and the state Department of Education. The commissioner has 10 days to respond to the vote, and the towns have 10 days after that to respond to the commissioner.
According to Beal, the towns can decide to keep the schools open. That would require a town referendum vote in each of the towns. If voters decide to keep their schools open, the towns would be responsible for the savings that would have been realized from closing the respective schools. Based on earlier information, the estimated cost to Cherryfield to cover that saving would be $377,000; in Columbia Falls, the cost would be about $340,000.