LUBEC, Maine — Retired educator Dick Hoyt’s effort to keep Lubec High School open began in April when he stood up at a public hearing and appealed to the SAD 19 school board.
Despite his plea, the board voted 4-1 on April 5 to recommend closing the state’s smallest mainland high school in an attempt to counter the massive loss of $579,000 in state subsidies to the local school system. Residents will vote on the proposal on June 23.
Within days of the school board’s vote, Hoyt called a meeting in his living room and five people came. But by last week, the group had grown so large that the meeting had to be held at the town office.
“It is a tremendous cross-section of Lubec people,” he said Friday. “And it is really exciting.”
Hoyt and his supporters have launched a vigorous effort not only to keep Lubec High School open but also to defeat a proposal to create an Alternative Organizational Structure to meet the state’s school consolidation law.
“In an era of fluctuating fuel costs, complicated, expensive, and consolidated administrative structures, we believe small, independent K-12 school districts are more efficient educationally,” Hoyt said. “They better serve their community and can offer rich educational opportunities to our young people who have their roots in Lubec. Bigger is not necessarily better. This is our town. These are our young people. It is our duty to educate them well here.”
A local referendum to vote on the Alternative Organizational Structure is set for June 15. It proposes creating the AOS with SADs 104 (Eastport) and 106 (Calais). All three superintendents would retain their positions, according to SAD 19 Superintendent Brian Carpenter, but in Lubec, two positions in the central office would be eliminated.
The SAD 19 school board has scheduled an informational meeting with residents for 6:30 p.m. at the high school cafeteria on the day after the AOS vote. Then there will be a final townwide vote on the school closure on June 23. The school closure issue will be the only question on the ballot.
On June 22, Hoyt and school supporters are planning to hold a parade and rally to get residents to vote in favor of keeping the school open.
“We want our school and administration here, and we want the state to mind its own business,” Hoyt said.
Lubec High School serves 37 students, making it the smallest mainland high school in Maine, according to the Maine Department of Education. The school board for SAD 19 — which only serves Lubec — could have closed the school without putting it to a public vote, but opted to give residents a say.
Hoyt said opponents of the closure are afraid that if an AOS is created on June 15, its board will take control and immediately vote to close the school and to cancel the June 23 public vote.
Superintendent Carpenter said Friday, however, that that couldn’t happen. He said that only the local school board — which SAD 19 would retain in an AOS — has the authority to open or close schools, negotiate contracts and hire and fire.
“An AOS only affects the central office and business functions,” Carpenter said.
The superintendent has estimated that between $15,441 and $129,429 could be saved by closing the school, depending on where parents elect to send students next — Shead High School in Eastport, Machias Memorial High School or Washington Academy in East Machias.
Carpenter said four teachers, a guidance counselor, a guidance secretary and a high school secretary would be laid off.
In addition, more than $173,000 in costs would be shifted from the high school to the elementary school.
Compounding the situation is the poor economy in Lubec. Sixty percent of Lubec’s residents are over age 65 and on fixed incomes, and many young families have left the area in search of work, resulting in a small school population.
But Hoyt and his followers believe that turning the small school into an Experiential Learning School could draw students from around the state. Hoyt said the ELS program is being used by a network of schools across the country, including the nationally recognized King Middle School in Portland.