ROCKLAND, Maine — Only a handful of RSU 13 community members gathered Thursday night to discuss the proposed closing of the MacDougal School, which officials say would save the district $363,000.
While there were concerns expressed, no one spoke in strong opposition against the closure during the public meeting at the McLain School.
Residents of Rockland will vote on the proposal in a referendum next month.
Based on last year’s school budget, the board estimates the cost of keeping the Rockland school open at more than $363,000.
The proposal calls for the 144 students of the kindergarten through first-grade pupils at the MacDougal School to move to Rockland’s South School on Broadway. That school now houses grades two through five. After the merger, the classes at the South School would have about 18 students.
Rockland City Counselor Tom Molloy, who is not on the school board, said money is the major issue. He used to teach at South School and said it is time to merge the two schools.
“If it [the referendum] is rejected we have to come up with $363,000 — the citizens of Rockland will have to pick up the tab,” Molloy said at the meeting. “I encourage the citizens of Rockland to vote yes to close it. Housing 150 extra students will not be a burden on that [South School] building.”
Residents at Thursday’s meeting asked about costs, including employment. The district is planning to cut several teachers’ jobs along with other jobs, including at least one custodian role.
“Whether this school closes or not, my recommendation will be to increase class size to eliminate four teaching positions,” said Judith Lucarelli, superintendent of RSU 13.
The $363,000 savings estimate does not include any of the merger costs, according to school officials. Merger costs include any extra construction or moving expenses that would be incurred. Some items discussed were the need for additional parking at South School and the possibility of having to move the playground to better suit smaller children.
One end of the MacDougal School is used by a preschool. Mary Bailey, the program director at Broadreach, an early education center, rents the school. If it is closed, she isn’t sure where she would move her 30 students.
“I’m going to have to find classroom space for 32 children — that’s really limited in this community,” Bailey said. “We’ve really turned the classroom into a great learning environment for preschoolers. We’re doing great things, but we’d like to be able to offer those services here.”
If the voters allow for the closure of the school, it would move to the town’s possession. The town could then rent, sell or use the building. Alternatively, the town could reject the building, which would mean the MacDougal School building would go back to the school district.
Lucarelli said that the MacDougal School was by far in the worst condition of all the district’s schools. It would be costly to keep it open, according to the school board. The district has had to replace the MacDougal School’s boiler, and several years ago the school had to address air quality issues from standing water in the steam tunnels, among numerous other structural concerns the school has had in recent years. The new boiler could be moved if the school were closed.
There is no solid plan in case the voters reject the closure.
The city would have to add the $363,000 to the estimated $2.5 million 2010-11 budget gap.
“We’re in a very difficult situation with finances no matter what,” Lucarelli said.
The school board voted in November to close the MacDougal School, but the city must have a popular vote to close it. The vote will be held 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, at Rockland City Hall.