EUSTIS — After the Stratton Elementary School survived two bouts of SAD 58's cost-cutting proposals, many townspeople have suggested that the town withdraw from the district.
Area students, including those from Carrabassett Valley, Coplin Plantation and Wyman Township, attend kindergarten through eighth grade at the school. Most students go on to Mt. Abram High School in Salem Township.
After the first board proposal to close the school, residents formed a Save Our School Committee to research options, including joining the Rangeley School District or forming a charter school. The committee made a formal proposal to the Maine Department of Education to
withdraw the school from the district.
It also received support from selectmen to continue the process. The next step is holding a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19, at the Stratton Community Center. The public hearing is a required step in the Maine Department of Education's withdrawal process and state law.
"The committee has been meeting regularly for quite a while, and frankly, a lot of people are on board with this," Board of Selectmen Chairman Jay Wyman said. "We have support from Coplin Township and Carrabassett Valley, too."
In July, residents began the process by presenting a petition signed by 69 voters to the board of selectmen, requesting that they investigate the process of withdrawing from SAD 58. After the hearing, voters will be asked to approve starting the process by appointing a formal withdrawal committee.
The selectmen are behind Save Our School efforts, Wyman said. High school students could continue to attend schools other than Mt. Abram High School, and they would benefit from wider school choice and fewer hours on the bus.
Wyman said students currently attending the Foster Regional Applied Technology Center in Farmington now ride a school bus for two hours because of stops throughout the district.
"They could cut that time to an hour and might attend Mt. Blue High School all four years, instead of just two."
Other residents in Strong, Phillips and Kingfield haven't had to face the same proposals, and Wyman said he doesn't know why the Eustis residents have faced the prospect twice. He said he realizes the school's geographic distance plays a big part in the board's decision-making process.
"Actually, this second time, I found out only a short time before the board meeting at Mt. Abram High School that they were going to vote again on closing our school," he said. "I've been a selectman for 25 years, and this isn't the way we conduct our business."
He said he began calling people that night, and a group of citizens gathered to attend the school board meeting, driving an hour through a snowstorm. More than half the audience was from Eustis.
"Our school is the heart of this community," he said. "We can't go through this every year."
If the October town meeting supports withdrawing from the district, the town will hire a consultant to handle the process. A committee will negotiate an agreement of withdrawal with the rest of the district and continue with additional informational public hearings.
An attorney will review final documents, and if the Maine Department of Education approves the final agreement, Eustis residents will vote on the final withdrawal agreement. If an agreement is reached, the
Stratton Elementary School could open in September 2013 as an independent K-8 school.