SALEM TOWNSHIP — With SAD 58 facing $700,000 less in state funding in 2011-12, the school district is looking into several options to save money.

Last week, directors considered closing schools, moving students and sending high school students to other districts.

The first and second plans would eliminate a teaching position and save approximately $58,000 by moving seventh- and eighth-graders to Mt. Abram High School or to Kingfield Elementary School. No schools would be closed.

A third option would close Mt. Abram High School with the district paying to send students to other high schools. Superintendent Quenten Clark’s and Business Manager Luci Milewski’s preliminary calculations projected a initial $2.5 million savings. The district would lose state subsidies and add tuition and increased transportation costs, so that option appears to save less that $50,000.

“We’d expected to see greater savings, and I think we’ll have to go through these figures again,” Clark said.

A fourth proposal to house all grades on the Mt. Abram campus would save approximately $1 million, but the district would have to borrow $22 million for construction and pay $2 million in debt service. The district would have to decide what to do with the four empty elementary schools.

Option five would close one of the three elementary schools, which has been vigorously opposed at public meetings. Kingfield would be the likeliest candidate, Clark said, because of its smaller student population and shorter traveling distance to bus children to the other schools.

If voters approved the sixth option, Mt. Abram High School would be closed and high school students would move into the Kingfield Elementary School. KES students would go to the three other schools. Projected savings could be more than $800,000, but to accommodate high school students, the district would need to invest $1.5 million to modify the building and athletic fields to meet high school standards.

“I’d guess we could postpone up to two-thirds of that construction cost, because the Strong School already has a tournament-sized gym we could use if we need to have play-off basketball games,” director Mike Pond said after the meeting.

The seventh option has been dubbed the “Do Nothing” plan. Since the six other options involve school closings and redistribution of the student population, this plan might be more popular with parents and staff, but taxpayers will have to decide how to pay for that choice. Mt. Abram High School currently needs nearly $1 million in repairs and energy and fire and safety improvements, and architects have presented plans that could cost up to $6 million in renovations.

The Maine Department of Education views the district as a quasi-municipality, with its own budget and an annual mill rate that can increase or decrease. If the directors don’t cut costs, taxpayers in Avon, Phillips, Kingfield, Eustis and Strong will be asked to pay the projected 2-mill rate increase.

Teachers’ union President Sally Bean suggested finding ways to reconfigure current space and reduce staffing through retirements and attrition. The district could start a preschool program to increase state and federal funding. A low-cost daycare program could provide revenue. Internships, senior educational programs, a respite care program and recruitment of students from other countries should be considered, Bean said. She suggested directors consider more adult education and long-distance learning opportunities, classes in wilderness and hospitality training, summer camps and summer school opportunities. She also suggested collaborating with businesses or considering a four-day school week.

All dollar savings are estimates at this stage, Clark said.

The district owns the four elementary school buildings and the 40-year old high school building.

In other news, Clark reported that all schools have converted to wood pellet boilers.

“One ton of pellets costs $172 and replaces 300 gallons of heating oil, and the cost of oil is going up” he noted.


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