Palmyra residents to vote on school closure today

Posted July 12, 2010, at 11:30 p.m.

PALMYRA, Maine — Voters will go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether Palmyra Consolidated School will be closed when the new school year begins.

The RSU 19 school board already has voted to close the school, teachers have been reassigned, and families are planning to send students elsewhere, but according to Superintendent William Braun, everything still hinges on Tuesday’s vote.

“If Palmyra residents vote to keep the school open, they’ll have to pay the entire cost and their taxes will go up significantly,” said Braun. “I just hope they vote correctly.”

The school board has been in the process of closing the school for months in an effort to balance the fiscal year 2011 budget without causing a significant increase in taxes. The board saved $448,292 in the next budget by closing the school, which is the amount the town would have to pay on top of its normal contribution to public education if residents vote against closure.

Cuts in the school budget were driven by reductions in state education subsidies that are being felt by virtually every school district in the state. In addition to closing the school in Palmyra, the board cut 14.5 teaching and staff positions and curtailed spending in numerous supply and operations budget lines. With those cuts, the RSU 19 budget for 2011 will be about $21.6 million, which is $1.5 million less than the current year.

The affected Palmyra students will go to schools in Hartland, Newport and Corinna, according to Braun.

If the town votes in favor of closure, it is likely that the school, which is located on U.S. Route 2, will be turned over to the town, according to Braun. He said selectmen already have indicated that they want it and that they have discussed a tentative lease agreement with a day care operator for part of the building. The Board of Education will decide what to do with the school during its Aug. 17 meeting, said Braun.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Daniel Sprague said keeping the school open would trigger a tax increase of up to 30 percent, which is why he recommends closing the school. Sprague could not be reached for further comment on Monday.

Braun said he and his staff would have to scramble if the vote turns out differently from what is expected.

“Everything is 100 percent in motion,” he said. “We’re just holding our breath so we can make some final decisions.”

The polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today at Palmyra Town Hall.

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