STRONG — Maine School Administrative District 58 (MSAD 58) has approved a plan to reconfigure its district schools amid waning state subsidies, decreased student enrollment and increasing property valuations. The reconfiguration, a part of the district’s strategic plan, was approved at the MSAD 58 Board of Directors meeting Thursday, Jan. 20.

MSAD 58 is comprised of Mount Abram High School (grades nine through 12) and elementary schools (pre-kindergarten through grade eight) in Kingfield, Phillips and Strong. The new plan, selected from four other options including school closures, will reconfigure the elementary schools and create a middle school.

In the 2022-23 school year, pre-kindergarten through grade four will be split between Kingfield and Phillips elementary schools. Grades five through eight will move to a middle school at the current location of Strong Elementary School.

Superintendent Todd Sanders wrote in an announcement to the district community that “the students in grades PK-4 in Strong will be relocated to PES or KES based on the location of their residency.”

In a phone interview Tuesday, Jan. 25, Sanders said the reconfiguration is “something that the district has been entertaining for many years” due to the aforementioned factors impacting the district’s rising budget.

“I don’t think it surprised anybody that the discussions occurred. I think it may have surprised people that this board chose to take action. It’s not an easy thing,” Sanders said.


“To make change, it takes a lot of courage and, and commitment, and the board unanimously voted to make this change,” he added. “I applaud [the board] for their ability to step up and take action when action needed to be taken.”

The decision was made for a variety of reasons that all impact one another, Sanders said. Because student enrollment has decreased and property valuations have increased, Sanders wrote ” the district was faced with a significant decrease in State subsidy last year.”

Sanders said MSAD “initially lost last year $483,000 of state subsidy.”

The state’s funding formula takes into account “valuation by town as provided by the Maine Revenue Service each year, which determines ability to pay” and the “percentage of students by town within a combined district, used to determine distribution of total allocation by town,” according to the Maine Department of Education. This formula, Sanders said, has a particularly harmful impact on MSAD 58 “because of [the district’s] lack of students and how spread out we are.”

Though Sanders said that funding issues have been ongoing, they were greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic: more children were pulled from the district to be home-schooled and property valuations increased because “as a direct result of the pandemic, people want[ed] to relocate to rural areas” and purchased property for significant amounts.

Additionally, the board was concerned about losing funding to pay existing staff. Sanders said the need for more staff was also intensified by the pandemic.


“We needed to maintain our current staffing because we were worried about instructional loss that students had had,” Sanders said. Without the state subsidy, over $1 million in costs for staff salaries and benefits were absorbed by the district’s American Rescue Plan Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grant funds.

Ultimately, the board went with Option E over four other options including the closure of either Mt. Abrams High School or one of the elementary schools.

The district projects the “potential savings” at $646,400.

The board and Sanders concluded that Option E would offer the most savings for the district over time because it would avoid further losses in funding from state subsidy they receive from educating students from unorganized territories and tuition from students in surrounding areas. In addition, closing one of the elementary schools would require higher transportation costs, Sanders said.

Another priority, which led to choosing Option E, was to “maintain our community schools,” Sanders said.

“Rural schools, community schools are special,” Sanders said. “The closure of a school is a tough, tough thing. The schools are the center of the community. And thinking that you’re not going to have that and your kids are going to have to travel, you know, increasing distances to be educated is a concern.


“I did think that the ability to have local control of the education of the students is important,” he added.

Of course, the reconfiguration comes with its pros and cons.

The pros, Sanders said, are that “it does create a true middle school,” “open some doors for our students, in many ways,” “increases our opportunities for professional development, collaboration” with “multiple teachers in those content areas in one building,” and “increases our student numbers in our pre-kindergarten to four buildings.”

Sanders considers the cons as less opportunity for middle school students to participate in athletics since there will be just a single set of school teams and students will have “additional travel” distances to school.

“I think in the long run, the pros definitely will outweigh the cons. Educationally, in particular,” Sanders said.

While Sanders did consider the reconfiguration a significant change, he acknowledged that “this is probably just the first step” in getting the district back on track.


“We will need to come up with a true strategic plan to continue to monitor the enrollment in our district,” he said. “And if it continues to decline significantly, we may have to do something down the road.

“At least we’ve started [getting] the ball in motion,” Sanders added. “Now we will be able to look down the road and plan proactively to address any issues we may have to deal with in the future.”

Sanders said the new configuration of schools will be in place for the next school year. In a timely manner, some staff will be assigned to other buildings and some staff members will “probably be notified that they no longer have a position in the district,” Sanders said.

And likely around the summer, families of pre-kindergarten through fourth grade students in Strong will be notified which of the other elementary schools they have been assigned to based on location. However, Sanders said ” whenever possible, [the district will] certainly want to honor requests” regarding school assignments.

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