SAD 53 undecided on closing school

Posted May 04, 2009, at 9:53 p.m.

PITTSFIELD — There were no final budget answers Monday night at the SAD 53 board meeting. Directors grappling to cut $500,000 from the proposed $10 million budget wanted more information before they decided between two options. The goal of the cuts is to get to a zero increase in local taxation.

One option would close Burnham Village School, among other actions, while the other would close the SAD 53 central office.

Closing the Burnham Village School would shift school populations and result in fourth-graders going to Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield. This move has its positive and negative effects, directors said, and they wanted a clearer picture of those effects.

“The information is too general for the public,” Director Michele Hodgins said. “They don’t want to hear, ‘It’s doable.’ They want specifics. They want to be reassured that we have a plan.”

While educators said meshing the fourth-graders with the fifth- and sixth-grade students has great educational benefit, parents have expressed concern that the children are too young to be in the same school with the seventh- and eighth-graders.

But Director Jan Laux said the difficult decisions must be made now.

“The reality is [closing the school] is going to happen this year or next year, and I don’t see things getting better in the next three years,” he said. “Southern Maine is not having these discussions. We are talking about our very survival here.”

Chairman Robert Downs, however, favored keeping the school open. He said the two options are so close financially that, “We have no compelling financial reason to close Burnham Village School.” He said the community school should be left in place. “This would give us a year or two to think about it.”

Superintendent Michael Gallagher said he would bring final budget figures to a board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 21, at which time the board will select which proposal will go before the voters on June 16.

He said the final figures might change because state revenue figures are not known yet.

Several board members appeared swayed to keep the Warsaw wrestling program, a $4,000 expenditure, in the budget.

Brandon Wright, a senior at Maine Central Institute and the current state champion in his weight class, appealed to the board to keep the program. He told of feeling very small — “like I was shrinking” — as his classmates grew larger than he was. “With wrestling, size was no longer a factor,” he said. “I found something that helped me focus in school. I won the state championship this year, I hold five out of six school records and have more than 130 wins.”

Michael Libby, MCI’s wrestling coach, said there is a very active peewee wrestling program and a solid and expanding program at MCI. He said it doesn’t make sense to cut the center out of the program. He said wrestling was a unique sport where boys compete individually.

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