WESLEY, Maine — Residents in this Washington County town voted by a narrow margin Monday night to keep their local elementary school open — for now.
In all, 47 people voted — nearly six times the number of students attending Wesley Elementary school, which is eight.
The vote was 26 in favor and 21 against — a closer vote than in 2008 when 23 residents favored keeping the school open and five opposed.
“This is an emotional issue and it clearly is splitting the town. I expect this will become an annual discussion,” Superintendent Scott Porter said Tuesday.
Glen Durling, chairman of the Wesley Board of Selectmen, said Tuesday he believed the final decision came down to finances. Porter projected that the town would save only $40,000 of its $209,000 total school budget — about 5 percent — by closing the school. That would represent about a $200 tax difference for a $10,000 property, Durling said.
“We did have some heated discussions last night,” he said Tuesday. “There were certainly strong feelings both ways.”
Durling said it appeared that those with deep roots in Wesley were more in favor of keeping the school, while those who had more recently moved to town wanted it closed.
“It is such a small school with such a small enrollment,” Durling said. “It was built 20 years ago in hopes of enticing people to move to Wesley. That hasn’t happened, in fact enrollment has declined since then, and it is not going to happen.”
Wesley belongs to AOS 96, which serves 11 towns. The closest option for Wesley students is Rose Gaffney Elementary School in Machias which, for some children, would mean a 25-mile ride one way.
Wesley Elementary serves eight pupils in kindergarten through grade eight, but that is expected to rise to 10 to 12 students in the fall. There are about 100 people in Wesley, with an average per-capita income of between $15,000 and $21,000.
Porter said the annual budget for the school is $140,000, but “it is not as simple as dividing the number of students into the costs.” He said the costs also include building maintenance, special education, central office services and transportation. Wesley sends its secondary students to Machias Memorial High School at an annual cost of $69,000.
The actual article asked voters if they wished to inquire about the process to close the school for the school year 2012-13.
Porter said only the school committee has the power to close a school but that if the town had indicated it wanted it done, the school committee would have given that great weight.