WOODSTOCK — The Woodstock Elementary School is a gem that ties the community together and a place where no child slips through the cracks, some at the Monday night’s SAD 44 board meeting said.

Approximately 75 people attended the presentation on the district’s financial options as it begins its budget-setting process.

The district expects a $1.2 million funding gap for fiscal year 2011-12, Superintendent David Murphy said. He said the district has continued to lose state aid the past few years.

“We’ve been free-falling with state aid. Soon, we’ll hit bottom and won’t be relying on the state anymore,” Murphy said.

State aid for fiscal year 2010-11 is $766,264. It is expected to drop to about $633,818 for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Only a few years ago, state aid was as high as $2.67 million.

At the same time, property values and the local share of the school budget have risen among most of the member towns. The result is a funding gap of $1.2 million.

The board meeting was held at the Woodstock school to hear concerns and comments on the possibility of closing or making major changes to the Woodstock and Andover Elementary School. Woodstock has 75 children in grades kindergarten to five; Andover has about 30 in the same grades.

Many, including a Greenwood resident with children at the Woodstock school, said they were concerned about the longer bus trips youngsters would have to endure if the school was closed.

Other concerns included the potential for larger class sizes at Crescent Park Elementary School if Woodstock and Andover students were sent to the Bethel school. There could be as many as 23 per classroom, according to preliminary projections.

If the Woodstock school was closed, the district would save about $243,000 a year; if Andover closed, savings would be just under $215,000 a year.

The district would still have to find more than $600,000 in further cuts, or ask the towns to increase the amount of school tax to bridge the funding gap.

While most who spoke at Monday’s board meeting, Greenwood resident Scott Hynek argued that the per child costs to keep both schools open are higher than the per pupil costs across the district.

Following a two-hour discussion, board Chairman Sidney Pew called for a special meeting for 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 31, to act on three agenda items:

* To close the Andover school.

* To close the Woodstock school.

* To make major modifications to the Woodstock school that would allow it to remain open.

Murphy said he sees no more flexibility at the Andover school, which now has three, multi-grade classrooms and a secretary who also works in the library. He said the board could look at making some similar changes at the Woodstock school, which would include multi-grade level classrooms, administrative modifications, and other changes that would result in cutting about $120,000.

If the board decides to close one or both schools, the vote must be a super-majority, which means two-thirds of the board members must vote to close. If a school is closed, the town in which it is located can vote to pay the extra funds for one year to keep it open.

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