MATTAWAMKEAG, Maine — No one, including Michael Marcinkus, wants to close Dr. Carl Troutt School.
But the SAD 67 superintendent spent about an hour and a half Tuesday explaining to about 75 residents why the closing would be necessary for redressing at least $180,000 in expected shortfalls this budget year.
“It stinks,” Marcinkus told the gallery at the Troutt school gym Tuesday night, “but unfortunately this is one of the best options we have to educate all of our children [district-wide] with frozen state funding levels for the next two years.”
Marcinkus hopes to have a plan and detailed cost estimates for closing the school ready for the SAD 67 board of directors in 30 days, if the state Department of Education approves.
The residents said the closing would eliminate one of the biggest family draws in the tiny northern Penobscot County town, which has an increasingly elderly population and has lost industry and its younger population steadily over the last quarter-century.
It would eliminate a school, they said, with an excellent staff and superb 9:1 pupil-teacher ratio while forcing parents and bussed pupils to commute to Ella P. Burr School in Lincoln, which is about 12 miles from Troutt, residents said.
“It’s another part of this town that won’t be here anymore,” said Leonard Markie, 38, a resident who attended Troutt and whose son attends Troutt.
Troutt, Marcinkus explained, is one of the oldest, least-populated and most expensive school buildings to maintain in SAD 67, which serves Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag.
Troutt has 49 students, while Burr, the district’s other elementary school, has 392. Mattanawcook Junior High School has 367 and Mattanawcook Academy, 448.
Marcinkus estimated that closing the school by July 1 will save a net $209,228 in the next fiscal year and a net $409,780 the following year. The closing includes the elimination of three teaching positions.
Included in the savings is the cost of building portable classrooms at Burr to house a grade to accommodate the influx of Troutt pupils and staff, he said.
The residents discussed inviting Kingman students to attend Troutt to increase the school’s population and tuition revenue, ignoring the state-mandated regionalization of schools statewide or having the town take on the cost of keeping Troutt open.
Those ideas struck SAD 67 board members as unrealistic.
“I would love to have some financially-sound reason to keep this school open,” SAD 67 board member Michele Morrison said, lamenting the lack of one. Board member Sarah Crockett agreed, saying that the reality of the state and national economy forced the closure.
The savings are especially important, Marcinkus said, given that an unanticipated influx of special-needs students forced the hiring of several specialists for about $100,000 and the state reduced its 2007-08 allocation to SAD 67 by $80,000.
“The economy being what it is, I think that in the next few years we are going to see a lot of small schools being forced to close,” Morrison said.