STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — Voters in Stockton Springs and Searsport will decide this spring whether to shut down a little-used elementary school in their district.
The Regional School Unit 20 Board of Directors unanimously backed closing Stockton Springs Elementary School during a Tuesday meeting held inside the largely empty school. The issue will go to the polls in both towns in early spring.
“This vote went as expected,” board chairman Anthony Bagley said after the meeting. “There hasn’t been a lot of controversy over this closing. It makes sense for the town and district.”
Today, the school, which was built to house 200-300 K-5 students, is only used for the district’s pre-kindergarten program and its 36 children. Just two of school’s 10 classrooms are in use.
District Superintendent Chris Downing said the pre-K program will be shipped to Searsport Elementary School, which will fill a couple of empty classrooms in the school of about 220 students. The move could save the district $70,000 per year, and bring in additional revenue if the building is sold or leased.
The district has seen relatively steady enrollment in recent years, according to Downing, but after several towns left RSU 20 to join other districts, more space opened up in the Searsport school, allowing all the district’s K-5 students to move there.
Under state law, the school closing needs to be approved by both the state and at least one of the district’s two towns. Only if a majority of voters in both Searsport and Stockton Springs vote against the closing will the district be forced to keep the building open.
Bagley said he believes that scenario is unlikely, but if it does happen, the district will have to pay to continue to heat and maintain the school until voters agree to let go of it.
Now, the district will submit a report to the Maine Department of Education explaining the reasons for the closing — in this case, a lack of need for the space. The department could make its decision later this month.
The school board expects to host a public hearing, likely on March 14, in advance of an April 4 vote.
The board will have to weigh what to do with the building once its future is determined. Downing said they could decide to put it on the market, or lease out portions of the space.
RSU 20 was once much larger than two towns. In 2012, Frankfort voted to leave RSU 20 for RSU 22, which included Hampden, Newburgh and Winterport. Two years later, Belfast, Belmont, Searsmont, Swanville and Morrill, voted to leave RSU 20 and form their own district, RSU 71. Northport also left, but it started its own school district.
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