SHIRLEY, Maine — The Shirley School Committee voted 3-2 Wednesday to close the Shirley Elementary School at the end of the school year.
As soon as that vote was held, all members of the committee, residents in the audience, and Superintendent Heather Perry, a resident of Shirley, signed a petition to force a referendum on the matter, recognizing the importance of allowing all residents a vote. Nine of the 12 signatures required to force the referendum were gathered at the meeting, and Perry predicted the petition would be complete by day’s end.
The referendum has been tentatively set for April 28. Residents will have the ultimate decision whether to close the school or keep it open.
“It’s a real tough decision for the five of us to make,” said board Chairwoman Virginia Sanborn, who opposed the school closing but supported the referendum.
Although the school serves only two students this year and no kindergarten children are expected next year, Perry said that for the committee, the issue hasn’t been about money but educational opportunities. The town tuitions most of its older students to the Greenville schools.
Barring keeping the school open, committee member Aimee Nichols suggested the vote be tabled or that the committee vote to close the school but keep it in a dormant state so it could be reopened if more school-age children moved into the community. If left dormant, the committee believed, the school would remain grandfathered from state-required improvements, a matter Perry will research before the referendum is held.
Nichols said that with the planned closings of the Monson and Rockwood elementary schools, the town might find itself with more children next fall. “I’m slightly concerned we’re rushing this without getting all the information,” she said. “I think we should exhaust all of our avenues before we make a decision.”
Resident Chris Later agreed. “I just can’t see shutting this; I don’t think it should happen,” he said.
Selectman David Thorp was not in favor of keeping the school in a dormant state. He suggested that closing the school next year and reopening it the year after that would not be beneficial to the two students. He supported the school closing permanently.
“It’s going to be a heart-wrenching vote either way. I think you’ve chosen a very good path,” Thorp said.
In view of its earlier vote, the committee on Wednesday adopted a budget that reflects the closure of the school. That spending plan of $210,600 reflects a decrease of $61,081 from the current year.