A big decision for a small school

5 mins read

WELD – All agreed it’s going to be a sad day if this small town’s school closes.

Some 45 residents attended a public hearing tonight on whether to close the K-6 Weld Elementary School. If the town votes on Aug. 12 to close it, those who spoke at the hearing noted a way of life in Weld will be lost too. One woman across the old wooden town hall where Weld’s gym classes have been held said, “if we close the school nobody’s going to want to live here.”

The little square school in question was built in 1962 on a two-acre perch in the center of town. Three classrooms were enough to teach the expectation of 75 students, who often walked to school and back home again. School events, which were more often community events, were held throughout the school year.

About 45 Weld residents turned out Tuesday night to discuss closing the Weld Elementary School.

But the reality is that there are only 13 children enrolled for next year and none of them are in kindergarten through second grade. If Weld decides not to close the school, they will be responsible for paying about $103,000 that would have been saved by MSAD 9 if it had been closed. This would be added to the $594,610 that the town already pays to educate its 45 K-12 students in MSAD 9 schools. Weld has 1.9 percent of the total students in MSAD 9, but has 8.4 percent of the property valuation of the district.

MSAD 9 would save $229,363.74, or about 1 percent of the $22 million budget. The tax savings shared across the nine towns that make up MSAD 9 would be a negligible amount, said Superintendent Michael Cormier.

What would be lost, he said, “is time on the bus and lost time in the community. It will be different for your children.” The ride to Wilton’s schools 15 miles away could be 20 minutes or more, depending on where the student lives and weather conditions.

“That’s the average time on the bus in this district,” Cormier said. He noted that some of Industry’s students ride an hour on the bus. Class size, which is usually about 21-23 students per class, would be another adjustment for Weld’s students.

Wilton schools principal Darlene Paine told the crowd she understood “the turmoil you must be feeling, but I can promise you, we will welcome them (Weld’s students), love them and do our best if you choose to close your school.”

If the school closes the building goes to the town. A search for a deed came up empty so it’s presumed, said Cormier, the building was never deeded to MSAD 9 when it formed in 1966. The school board voted to return the building back to the town, so either way it’s goes to the town. If the town doesn’t want the building, it will be officially deeded back to the district to be sold. Proceeds of the property’s sale would be credited to Weld’s tax commitment for educating its students.

If the school stays open a teacher will need to be found. That was the major issue for Weld’s MSAD 9 director Neil Stinneford.

“We lost two teachers in the last couple of years. The prospect of finding another experienced teacher for next year is slim,” Stinneford said. “I have to believe that going to Wilton will be better for the students.”

“Those are our kids and they go to our school,” resident Paul Druan said. “Why would we vote to close the school?”

“When a town loses a school, it loses a vital part of the community,” Cormier said.

Weld residents will decide the issue by written ballot on Aug. 12 from 4-8 p.m. at the town office. In the meantime, a community meeting will be held 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 5 in the town hall to discuss the issue further.

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