Closing Monroe’s 54-student elementary school would save $211K, but is it worth it?

Posted Sept. 27, 2011, at 12:08 p.m.

THORNDIKE, Maine — Parents, community members and RSU 3 school district officials wrestled Monday night at a special school board meeting with the proposal to close Monroe Elementary School.

Closing the 54-student school would save the school district an estimated $211,000 annually, according to figures released by the district. But that money — about 1 percent of the district’s $18.5 million annual budget — isn’t enough to make up for the loss of a small, good school, many in the Mount View Middle School classroom said.

The district serves the 11 towns of Brooks, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Liberty, Monroe, Montville, Thorndike, Troy, Unity and Waldo. Under the proposal, students now attending the Monroe school would be bused to Morse Memorial School in Brooks.

“We do not believe that closing the school will benefit the children of the district,” said Kitty Wilkin, a Monroe community member who sits on the Monroe School Closure Stakeholder Committee. That group, which includes the school’s principal and residents from Monroe and Jackson, which also sends students to the Monroe school, presented its report Monday night to the RSU 3 board of directors.

The board will vote on the matter at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11, at its next regular meeting, held at Monroe Elementary School.

Although John Work of Jackson, the only one of 10 stakeholder committee members to favor closing the school, presented his so-called “minority report,” others in the group recommended the district keep it open. They cited the strong and active parent-teacher organization, the school’s outdoor education program, the community garden, the library and the literacy program, calling them “non-transferable resources.” They said that the school is a reason why young families would choose to settle in the area.

Parent Andy Letourneau of Jackson said that his young child asked not to close the school.

“There’s a sense of ownership, even to a 7-year-old,” he said.

But Work said that other schools in the district have closed, most recently the Unity Elementary School.

“The towns didn’t dry up and blow away,” he said.

He said that just 70 of Monroe and Jackson’s combined 1,400 residents attended a public forum on the possible school closure this summer.

“Do you really have the consent of the people?” he asked those in favor of keeping the elementary school open.

Ben Block, who said he recently moved back home to Monroe, thinks so.

“If you close that school, it’s going to be a bridge burned,” he said. “This isn’t meant to pit towns against each other.”

Rod McElroy of Unity got a round of applause — and a laugh — after his comments.

“Which is more important, dollars or kids?” he asked. “I had four kids, and they were more important than the dollars. And I have four grandchildren, and they’re a heck of a lot more important.”

However, Kathy Littlefield, a longtime Waldo selectman, also spoke in favor of closing the school and saving money.

“$210,000 to everybody’s pocketbook means quite a lot,” she said. “Sometimes we have to make the tough decisions. And I don’t think the economics in our district is getting any better.”

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