MONTICELLO, Maine — Five months ago, the SAD 29 board, backed by more than 60 residents, made it overwhelmingly clear that it didn’t want to close the Wellington School.
But it did want more data in case it decided to take action in the future, and the superintendent provided a snapshot of that information on Monday evening.
During the nearly two-hour meeting at the Wellington School, Superintendent Mike Hammer distributed information garnered from a survey mailed out in October to parents of students in Littleton, Monticello and Hammond.
SAD 29 educates about 1,300 students from the towns of Houlton, Littleton, Hammond and Monticello. There are two pre-kindergarten through third grade schools in the district, and parents can choose to send their children to either one — Wellington in Monticello or Houlton Elementary School. The two schools are located about 13 miles apart.
The purpose of the survey was to find out which school parents choose and why, particularly since declining enrollment at the school and a districtwide need to do some fiscal belt-tightening prompted the discussion about closing Wellington last year.
Seventy pupils attended the school in 1998 and 56 this past spring. There are now 63 pupils attending the facility. But there also were another 76 students from Littleton and Monticello who attended school in Houlton last year.
Hammer said Monday that the information from the survey will be vital to the district as educators and administrators look at future programming. Parents were asked where they lived, where they sent their children to school and how they got them there. They also were asked to identify the primary factor that determined which school they sent their child to. Another question centered on whether some parents might send their children to Wellington if that school had before- or after-school child care.
According to the survey results, which did not specify exactly how many residents responded, 44 percent of respondents sent their children to Wellington. Sixty percent of those who responded lived in Littleton and 35 percent lived in Monticello. Those surveyed said the primary factor in deciding where to send their children to school was the education offered at the facility, followed by convenience and then child care. The majority of those who responded also indicated that the availability of after-school child care would not affect where they educate their children. Forty-seven percent of respondents said that they did not transport their children to school, while 43 percent did.
Parents also were given the opportunity to comment on school choice. One parent said that she and her husband were “very pleased with the Wellington School,” its staff and the education offered there. They indicated that after their children are finished at the Monticello school, they likely will be sent to Greater Houlton Christian Academy rather than another school in SAD 29. Several respondents said that they work in Houlton so it is easier to send their children there and not have them return home to an empty house after school. One parent strongly felt “that children from K-6 should not ride the same bus as children grades 7-12.”
That was a major concern mentioned by parents last March during a four-hour special board meeting in Monticello about the future of Wellington School. Administrators at that time said that children from the school would face an estimated 1½-hour-long bus ride to Houlton Elementary School if the Monticello school were closed.
Several speakers at that time also said that the district should mandate that all Littleton and Monticello children attend Wellington, with a few exceptions. Hammer said that the board would need more time to study data before making a decision on that proposal.
Hammer said this week that he would like to get projections on what the district’s population is predicted to look like in the next five to 10 years so that SAD 29 can better predict the number of students who will be using its schools. He said that if a decision was made to close Wellington and send students to Houlton Elementary or vice versa, construction and renovation likely would have to happen either way to prepare the facility for the influx of additional students. He said that a population projection and a strategic plan also would better help district officials realize how much money would be saved if a school were closed.
After presenting the current survey results to the board, Hammer asked the members if there was any additional data they might want.
Fred Grant, who represents Houlton on the school board, said he would like to see data on how many staffers would need to be added to Wellington if they moved some children from Houlton to the Monticello school. In 2005, district officials said that Houlton was “bursting at the seams” with 365 students. There are 411 at the school now.
Others had questions about space and classroom sizes at Wellington. Hammer said the district would be looking at those variables.
“What we really need is good data,” he said Tuesday. “Once we have good data, we can make good decisions.”