Franklin Countys First News

MSAD 58 directors discuss future of district

The MSAD 58 school board at Kingfield Elementary School.

KINGFIELD - School board directors discussed options that would allow Maine School Administrative District 58 to adapt to reduced student enrollment and rising local costs at Thursday's meeting, following a series of workshops and public meetings on the subject.

MSAD 58 administrators and school board directors have been discussing the future of the district for months, following a 2018-19 budget process that resulted in a more than 10 percent increase in town assessments. While the board's proposed budget and its .9 percent decrease was changed to a small increase by voters at the annual budget meeting, the biggest culprit was declining enrollment. State subsidy is tied to student population, so each student the district loses represents less state money for programming.

In 2008-09, the district had 795 students in its four schools. That figure does not include the Stratton Elementary School's 97 kids, as the town of Eustis left the district in 2013. Enrollment as of last month was 631 - a significant reduction in student population in a little more than a decade.

The district has held a series of public forums to collect feedback and ideas, culminating in a workshop on March 5 in which Superintendent Susan Pratt presented data on demographic and fiscal trends and answered questions about different options to reform the district. Thursday, directors went over a list of suggestions, picking five they believed warranted further consideration.

These ideas included the creation of a central school - the mega-campus concept - which would replace the existing system of three pre-K through grade 8 schools and a separate high school. The concept would rely on the savings associated with closing schools and having a single campus to pay for the cost of construction over a 20-year period.

Some directors noted that closing just one of the three schools in Kingfield, Phillips or Strong would likely be unacceptable to that community. Directors said that closing all three at once would at least be more equitable, and that some members of the public had spoken in favor of that proposal. A single campus would be less susceptible to issues relating to declining enrollment. Part of that process, Pratt noted, would include a long-range projection regarding student population figures.

Others expressed concern with closing any town school. "If you close your town's school, you lose your community," Director Lois Barker of Strong said.

Another idea would basically move in the opposite direction: close Mt. Abram High School and turn the three elementary schools into K-12 schools. The problem, Director Stephen Hagerstrom of Strong pointed out, was that MSAD 58 was already 10 teachers over the state's Essential Programs & Services funding model. To maintain the same programming in three schools instead of one could take as many as 15 additional teachers, which would be difficult to fund. The elementary school buildings would also need improvements to make them suitable for high school student occupancy.

Other directors supported re-configuring the existing facilities to specialize them by grade levels: a K-2 building, a grade 3-5 building, etc. That would save money by eliminating currently duplicated services, but it would increase transportation time for students. All Phillips kindergartners, for example, currently go to Phillips Elementary School, which is a relatively short commute. Sending those same students to a district-wide program in Kingfield or Strong would leave them on a bus for an extended period of time.

Another option would be to close Mt. Abram and tuition high school students to surrounding schools. Yet another would be to use multi-grade classes - combining grade 1 and 2 students into a single class, for example - to combine particularly small groups of students and help reduce personnel costs.

Pratt took down the five options and said she'd further research those ideas for the board. She noted that whatever direction MSAD 58 might move in could take considerable time to plan and execute.

In other business, the board was informed that MSAD 58 buses may begin fueling at local gas stations, rather than at the bus garage after a large underground tank comes out of the ground this year. Replacement costs for the tank, which must come out immediately and has been budgeted for in the proposed 2019-20 budget, ranged between $105,000 and $130,000. While the long-range plan for the buses might change in two or three years, Pratt said, in the short term it made more sense not to replace it.

The Mt. Abram High School Art Show has been scheduled for May 7 from 4 to 7 p.m. The show will feature at least one piece of work from every student.

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13 Responses »

  1. What a great idea all this 'splitting up' and so on was, 15, 20 years ago, huh? So, as with all progressive 'ideas', now we have to find a way to bail ourselves out, yet again. Going to be hard to stay in Maine with all the hits coming to our limited incomes. Already pay over 55% of my property taxes to the school - renters, you do too in the form of rent increases....oh yes, a "MegaCampus" will be great...take more bonds, maybe we can all be paying $6k per year, like in MA, next? That would seem to be the outcome that's on the way.

    Once we pay for this, our heating oil taxes, gas tax, probably per mile tax, green new deal, buying the elite their electric cars, free healthcare for non taxpayers, $10k teacher pay raise, $15 min. wage, immigrants both invited and illegal, and have our freedoms further limited....what will be left for citizens? Maine has turned into Illinois in the blink of an eye. A state ONLY for the elite. Perhaps voters will come out next time and reject all this idiocy that makes doing the NORMAL things, like school issues, terminal financial trauma for many; before everything they've worked for is GONE.

    And now you know what "over regulated" means.

  2. I am all for the "mega campus concept!" Close 3 schools and have all the kids in one school. K-12. With so few students the campus would not be too crowded and we would have all the kids under one roof. I know it will cost a lot of money to build, but in the long run I think it would save?? The focus would be to maintain one building, rather than four.....Just my opinion

  3. ONE day Henny-penny was picking up corn in the cornyard when--whack!--something hit her upon the head. 'Goodness gracious me!' said Henny-penny; 'the sky's a-going to fall; I must go and tell the king.'

    Okay folks, this level of foolishness is outright silly just like the story. Granted not all changes that the PUBLIC voted in were prudent and some are later found to be downright wrong. That said, the future is still a blank slate and will become what we envision it to be.

    The concept that "Government" is controlling your life is crazy. Well that is if you take the time to learn the issues and vote...YES VOTE! Often the most vocal opponents on many issues are those that sit at home on election day and now simply want to complain.

    Funding for education was important enough through the ages that parents found a way to make it work. Heck, if not for education, those commenting here would be poorly prepared to read or comment! Continued finger pointing and name calling has proven unproductive in the past and will in the future. Stop, and consider how you can help solve the issues presented and work to that end.
    Franklin county is a unique and wonderful place to live and work. Opportunities are available for those willing to seek them and work hard to retain them. Step up and be the citizen you expect of others to be and have a productive day.

  4. Just saying, I agree 100%. And it needs to be in Salem next to high School. It's the largest piece of land that the district owns and not one town benefits over another that way. It's also the central location between all the town's. I think they should also approach New Portland and New vinyard about joining the district to get student numbers up.

  5. Who said "government" was controlling anyone's life? Naive voters do; they screw us all. Voting based on emotion without logic...not a lotta smahts. Based on "they're gonna GIVE me!". Or "Oh, that seems FAIR!".

    Bad gov can be gotten rid of in 5 seconds on election day, at least for now...but only by people who are informed and who show up. Both of those are lacking (well, we ARE in Tyler's "apathy" stage, without doubt).

    Sure, people have always scrimped and saved, tried to do well for their kids. Found a way, right. BUT, now, we've blown the whole wad on this, that, and every 'project' emotion can summon up. We didn't prioritize anything, we just WANT. My earlier list is only a PORTION of the 'wants'. Not all will pass, but enough to hurt will.

    People in the past didn't do things this way. They didn't act, then "we'll find a way to pay for it, yay!". They made wise, measured decisions. The future isn't a "blank slate", not at ALL. It carries all the debt of the past along with it. Now, before you see how the taxes on your HOME will potentially be doubling (?) due to the commitments they're now voting on in Augusta, we're going to talk "mega" schools. Well, you better get the bonds going BEFORE people see how bad they just made things, I'll tell you that. This state just made some RADICAL moves, and any normal taxpayer will CERTAINLY want to know how those splurges are going to affect them, BEFORE you add in 100,000,000 in new spending on a school.

    You may find that you're lucky to have a job a year from now when others don't as smart people move their businesses south. But you'll still vote to 'borrow' for a Mega School without consideration. It's actually kind of amusing.

  6. It does not make financial sense to close schools in good shape in order to build a mega complex. Keep a school in each town. They are built, one is paid for and it is the heart of each community.

  7. Building a mega school with combined small classes grades. What happens to the schools that are closed? Possibly make one into a tech center for high school students and maybe try selling the others to investors. Problem in this area is there is no jobs that hold people here. Any one of the schools could make a good office building or small shopping centers. We need to move forward doing so might take a little small town charm away but families want to live in a place they dont have to travel from to work and shop.

  8. I do not see any practical way for SAD 58 to keep all the schools in the district open and maintained. This problem has been discussed for years.and no decision has been made nor action taken...enrollment continues to decline while the school budget steadily increases annually...It is time to make a logical decision and do it! Not everyone will be happy, but they aren't now. Some folks will lose their jobs, but that (unfortunately) is life. Many people have lost jobs for various reasons and found new employment elsewhere. Taxpayers have struggled to pay taxes and each year it becomes a little harder for them. . Many of the taxpayers in this district are on a limited income (SS) and already must choose what they can or cannot pay with their limited monthly income. It is time to be brave, be practical and do whatever is necessary to lower school expenses. Time to consolidate students and lower the number of personnel needed.. thus taking a big bite out of administrative costs/insurances/benefits. All students in one building eliminates the need for duplicate positions such as aides, secretaries, teachers, assistants, etc. Closing buildings reduces building maintenance / heat/ janitorial services, etc. Cafeteria personnel could be reduced to 1/4 of what the cost is today! It will be a difficult decision, but it is a NECESSARY decision. Time to stop discussing and start doing.

  9. One point I don't see being raised, which is the key to why 'no mega school', is that the small towns north of Farmington have enjoyed a pretty good standard of living - property taxes in the reasonable range. We all watched Farmington's double, and Phillips is now a very hard place to remain in tax-wise. That's what a 'mega school' will do for you. It's why SO MANY areas have become rotten to live in, frankly. Who wants $4k/yr taxes where 3 years ago they were $1,500, $2k? Start living outside your current means, listen to promises of 'sharing' and state money, and I GUARANTEE that will be your fate.

    There are probably 10 better ideas than taking on MORE debt, raising taxes YET AGAIN, and driving MORE small biz's out of here. Time to be creative, and keep an eye on the bottom line. People don't WANT 'small shopping centers' and so on, they live in RURAL MAINE....most stores that start up here, close. You're not ever going to attract new biz's with the Augusta idea of taxes, sorry; they are LEAVING now, only 3 mos. into their run, and will continue to do so! Nobody wants to be punished for trying to better themselves, and that is certainly the case.

    We need to make do with what we've got, something we're not used to doing, apparently.

  10. As a parent of two children currently enrolled in PES I would vote for combining grades! My youngest child is in a combined first/second grade class room with 1 teacher and this school year has been great. It gives children the opportunity to learn up or down depending on their needs while still maintaining a good student to teacher ratio. Unfortunately this option would mean a loss of jobs for several amazing teachers in our community. I am not sure there is an easy answer that will benefit everyone, so we need to do what will benefit the children the most while still keeping taxes manageable for the rest of the community.

  11. Keep the schools the way they are. Do not combine grades, this does not have the positive impact you might believe it to have. Combining grades puts increase strain on teachers and increases the student teacher ratios in such a way that the environment is no longer condusive to learning. These schools are the heart of our small communities. Close the school and you've closed the town.

  12. I am not sure that there is a good answer to this dilemma, it seems that there are some extremely difficult decisions to make and each town is going to have to make them one way or another.
    Our school system is just not effective right now, the costs are getting higher and our student numbers are declining, not just a little but dramatically. there is going to be hurt feelings, angry people and no matter what people need to keep in mind that the school board is TRYING to do what is right for our children.
    Voice your opinion, attend the meetings, be a squeaky wheel, offer solutions and VOTE. I don't love the idea of a mega school, for me I like the idea of combining grades, having an elementary school, middle school and a high school. this works for so many other communities.

  13. One of the pros to a mega campus, is security. After the drama in Bangor yesterday , spread out over an entire city. Having one campus to protect seems smarter. AND after reading this , none of this is going to happen today, or tomorrow, lets work together to rebuild our communities, the idea of an individual school for each town has continued too long, with rivalries that should have been long ago set aside for the betterment of our over all Northern Franklin County community.