PORTLAND (AP) – In the Down East city of Eastport, school officials believe their enrollments will remain stable in the years ahead.

But in the state Capitol, officials have a different view: Eastport will lose 48 percent of its students by 2013.

Those opposing predictions illustrate differences in enrollments as projected by state and local school officials. Those differences could have major implications for the school districts.

A loss of students could mean smaller state subsidies, and higher property taxes. It could also mean closed schools, and longer bus rides for students.

School enrollments are declining in much of Maine. State officials warn they are expected to drop to levels not seen in a half century.

Analysts in Augusta, who rely on economic and population trends, predict total Maine public school enrollment statewide will drop more than 12 percent over the next eight years.

But critics contend the state is painting the darkest possible picture in order to close small schools.

“I think it’s a lot of scare tactics,” Paula Bouchard, chairwoman of the Eastport School Board, said of the state’s forecast. “They are trying to force us small communities into doing things we don’t want to do: consolidate with other schools.”

Jim Rier, policy director of the state Department of Education, said state forecasts are based on a scientific model that’s proven to be accurate.

He said many local school officials refuse to accept the results because they are threatened by them.

“They are in denial,” Rier said. “It’s deny, deny, deny.”

Districts that fail to plan for the enrollment plunge could see higher local taxes as state subsidies fall, Rier said.

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