WELD – One of the many cost-saving methods recommended over the course of an extremely difficult MSAD 9 budget process was to close Weld Elementary School. Tuesday, voters will be able to discuss closing the school themselves.
Tuesday’s meeting was arranged by the town of Weld, and should not be confused with the official public hearing, to be held later this month. A public hearing is a necessary step before the state Department of Education will allow a school to be closed. At that meeting, scheduled for July 29, voters will be able to gather information and discuss closing the local school, prior to a resident-only vote, scheduled for August 12.
Weld residents will need to approve the closing of the school, which educates the local children for grades K-6, at the August referendum vote for MSAD 9 to complete the shut down. If Weld decides not to close the school, they will be responsible for putting up the money that would have been saved by MSAD 9 if it had been closed. This would be on top of the $590,000 that the town already pays to educate its children.
The cost of keeping the school open has been estimated at roughly $100,000 annually.
Besides the tight financial times for school districts across the state, the administration recommended closing Weld Elementary due to the low anticipated enrollment numbers for the next few years. It is believed that only 13 children would attend that school next year, and none of them are in K-2.
At a school board meeting in May, Director Neil Stinneford, of Weld, said that he and some residents were concerned that because longtime teacher and principal Arline Amos was retiring, a new teacher would need to take over the educational duties for the entire facility.
“There may be one or two families that are adamantly opposed [to closing the school],” Stinneford said then, “but we need to do what’s best for kids.” He went on to say that “it is time to bite the bullet.”
Running the school for 13 children is expensive, as well. While only one teacher would need to be at the school, the physical education, foreign language, special education and other specialists would still need to commute to and from Weld. The facility would still need to be heated, cleaned and maintained. Hot lunches would still need to served.
If closed, students would instead be transported to Wilton’s Academy Hill School. Surveys given to Weld residents have reflected disappointment with the idea, but also a sense of resignation.
“We are realistic in keeping the school open versus the cost of keeping the school open,” Selectman Laurie Pratt told the school board during the budget deliberations. She also raised new concerns however, over the time Weld students would spend on the bus, and the quality of Route 156, which connects Weld to Wilton.
Tuesday’s meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m., at the old town hall. Superintendent Michael Cormier is expected to attend to help answer questions, as well as Senator Walter Gooley (R – Farmington). A representative of the state property tax division may also be there.
Topics of conversation include an explanation of the Weld allotment for the MSAD 9 budget, and possible ways to reduce that financial burden. These could include withdrawing from the district and tuitioning students, like many communities in the Unorganized Territories do, or possibly joining MSAD 21, which consists of Peru and Dixfield.
Weld typically pays more on an individual basis compared to other MSAD 9 towns, due to its high valuation. Selectmen have estimated that Weld taxpayers currently pay a little less than $14,000 per student. That, by way of comparison, is three times what Farmington citizens pay and five times what Chesterville residents pay.
The effect on Weld residents if MSAD 9 and MSAD 58 should consolidate will also be addressed.