MATTAWAMKEAG, Maine — Voters will decide Tuesday whether the town will pay another $367,000 annually to keep the Dr. Carl Troutt School open or send students to a Lincoln school.
The election might effectively reverse a 7-1 vote, with one abstention, by the SAD 67 board on Jan. 21 to close the elementary school for the 2009-10 year, due to an expected state funding shortfall and increasing costs associated with the school’s maintenance.
Residents successfully petitioned for the referendum, but it’s a decision that leaves everyone feeling uneasy, said John Whitehouse, former chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
A northern Penobscot County town of about 800 people off the Mattawamkeag River east of Interstate 95 and northeast of Lincoln, Mattawamkeag needs the school as a community attraction, town leaders have said.
“I think that, short-term, our costs in town would increase by 68 percent, but once you lose that attraction to live here in town, then you either lose people or you don’t have a draw to bring them to town,” Whitehouse said Sunday. “One way or another, you lose taxes.”
Troutt is one of the oldest, least-populated and most expensive school buildings to maintain in SAD 67, which serves Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag. The school has 49 students, while the Ella P. Burr School of Lincoln, the district’s other elementary school, has 392. Mattanawcook Junior High School has 367, and Mattanawcook Academy, 448, school statistics show. The latter two schools are in Lincoln.
According to figures compiled by SAD 67 Superintendent Michael Marcinkus, keeping Troutt open would mean maintaining per-pupil costs double those at Burr. Town residents would take on that burden themselves if they vote to keep Troutt open.
Troutt pupils would go to Burr — where school officials plan to build portable classrooms — in September if the referendum fails to overturn the school board’s action.
The pending vote has delayed SAD 67’s 2009-10 budget deliberations, board Chairwoman Judy Junkins of Lincoln said. The budget vote is set for June 10, she said.
“After the [Tuesday] vote, we will know what kind of budget we have,” Junkins said. “The schedule is tight but I don’t think that we will have a problem.”
The vote will be held at the town office from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Selectman Joe Grant, who declined to say whether he favored opening or closing the school, encouraged all eligible town residents to vote.
“It’s really important that town residents get out to vote,” Grant said. “This has a large impact on our town. If it passes, we will have to find the money. It is a large amount but it’s important for the town.”