SWANVILLE, Maine — Toddy Pond School will shut its classrooms for good after having provided alternative education to the area’s schoolchildren for three decades.
Founded by the back-to-the-land idealists who began arriving in Waldo County in the 1970s, Toddy Pond School has been grappling with declining enrollment and has served only a handful of full-time students for the past few years. Faced with that reality, the board of directors has decided to close the school and hopes to find another educational or cultural institution to take over its Oak Hill Road schoolhouse.
“We had been marginally holding on, but this year we crossed the line,” board president Dr. David Tanhauser said Monday. “We figured if we had 13 students it would sustain itself. That’s not much, but even that small of a much we couldn’t attain. Over the last several years we’ve been near to this point for some time.”
Tanhauser said the school has about $10,000 in debts and a $97,000 mortgage. He said the board is confident it could sell the building for at least that. Under its bylaws, the board was required to disburse whatever was left to any organization that meets the Toddy Pond School mission statement of providing a similar-style edu-cation or to some other cultural group.
“It would be easier just to transfer it to a new organization or some other tax-exempt entity,” he said. “We are looking for the assets in this school that parents contributed to for so many years to go on to something worthy that will provide educational opportunity for the people of this area.”
Tanhauser said the school held classes in three locations over the past 30 years before landing in its present location in 1996. Tanhauser donated the land to the school and the new building was made possible through donations and borrowing. Before being held at the Oak Hill Road site, classes were first held in the barn of Cy and Barb Klausmeyer in Swanville, Partial Farm in Monroe and High Street in Belfast. At each of those locations, the accredited K-8 school had a strong enrollment and the support of many parents.
“Toddy Pond was the expression of folks who moved here from away and wanted to do things better. They wanted a small school that would provide individual attention where each student would work at a rate appropriate to their needs and provide a familylike relationship for the kids. They believed in the concept of the out-doors as a place to be,” Tanhauser said.
The advent of home schooling had a direct impact on enrollment as many of the parents who would have sent their children to alternative schools like Toddy Pond chose to teach them at home themselves. Tanhauser noted that the first generation of Toddy Pond parents not only served on the board, they also helped teach, cook and maintain the school.
“We went from a time when the founding generation of parents were involved to today, where both parents are working. It’s hard to sustain a parent-run school when both are working,” Tanhauser said. “As time passed, the founders dispersed and the next group wasn’t as fired up as the earlier ones.”
Tanhauser said that while it was difficult for those involved to see the school come to an end, change is as inevitable for institutions as it is in life.
“It survived for 30 years. I think many of the schools that started in that era no longer remain, so we did quite well, I believe,” he said. “It’s like a person dying, you have to move on. I’m a doctor, sometimes I get to a place where a patient is dying and, it’s not that you wish they would die, but it’s just that I wish I would be without the misery of that patient dying. There is a fair amount of misery that goes on with that.”