LUBEC, Maine — About 200 residents filled the Lubec school cafeteria to nearly overflowing Tuesday night to hear what kind of money closing their high school would save.
They also learned the details of forming an AOS — alternative organizational structure — which is a consolidation process that would affect only administration, not schools.
Lubec has been pushed into a corner by shrinking state subsidies. It will lose several hundred thousand dollars next budget year over this year, in addition to $43,300 in penalties for failing to consolidate — one of the hardest-hit towns in Washington County.
It was an emotional meeting, with supporters of keeping the high school speaking about tradition, honor and values, while many appeared concerned about what would happen to their property tax bills if the school remains intact.
The discussion was informational only. Superintendent Brian Carpenter explained that if the board should decide to close the school, first the board would vote on the closing at a future meeting, and then there would be a townwide referendum.
School board chairman Russell Wright assured residents that the board was continuing to look at all other cost-saving options.
But Tuesday, voters were concerned about getting accurate information. Many were confused when handouts provided at the door when residents signed in seemed to indicate two different per-student-costs at the high school. Carpenter explained that several of the handouts were provided by a school board member, not the administration.
“We need accurate numbers,” an audience member shouted.
Carpenter said that if Lubec High School were closed, the total budget reduction would be $256,025. That was based on 39 students expected to be in next year’s four grades.
This plan included tuitioning Lubec high schoolers to either Eastport, Washington Academy or Machias Memorial High School.
The plan also included having bus drivers serve as school janitors when they were not transporting students, eliminating the state-recognized aquaculture program, eliminating art and music on the elementary level, eliminating technology, and shifting the principal from a K-12 position to just K-8.
Some people who spoke out talked about the inability to provide a full, well-rounded education for just 30 to 40 students in today’s competitive world.
“I’d trade the ‘Welcome to Lubec High School’ sign in a heartbeat for a good education,” said one young man.
But others urged the board to look at options and other plans to be able to keep the high school open.
“We’re from Down East. We don’t curl up in a fetal position and quit,” said one Lubecker.
Others spoke of the tradition surrounding the high school that was originally formed in 1896 and which many view as the heart of the community.
During his explanation of forming an AOS, Carpenter told the residents that it was too late for Lubec to avoid failure-to-consolidate penalties this year. “The way the commissioner [of education, Susan Gendron] has structured the consolidation plan, we will not make the timeline of July 1. She has guaranteed herself the penalty money.”
Lubec was recently dropped from an AOS plan that included 11 towns surrounding Machias.
Machias Superintendent Scott Porter told the Lubeckers that he was already leading eight towns and three others were very close by. “If we had included Lubec, we would have had to hire more staff, more administration and more special ed staff. We would have lost the savings we were going to experience by becoming an AOS.”
The public has not yet voted on the 11-town Machias AOS.
Lubec school board members are heading to Augusta this week to see if there is any way they can get an extension on the deadline for forming an AOS. The savings for Lubec if an AOS is chosen would range from $41,636 to $17,576, depending on whether unemployment for laid-off teachers is paid or not.