October 28, 2012

SAD 13 sends out surveys seeking input on school closings, mergers

Changing times, lower enrollment leading to need to trim costs

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

BINGHAM — Wes Baker, 87, remembers what it was like to send his six children through public school in this small town along the Kennebec River.

click image to enlarge

Wes Baker, 87, of Bingham, stands on his front porch down the street from Quimby Middle School on Thursday. Baker has sent six kids through the Bingham-based school district and remembers a time when enrollment was higher.

Staff photo by Rachel Ohm

click image to enlarge

Wes Baker, 87, of Bingham, stands on his front porch down the street from Quimby Middle School on Thursday. Baker has sent six kids through the Bingham-based school district and remembers a time when enrollment was higher.

Staff photo by Rachel Ohm

The town was a different place. Baker owned a general store, Preble & Robinson’s, across the street from his house, which he bought from a couple who owned the restaurant down the street, Thompson’s. There were four mills in town. Baker worked briefly at one of them, the Allen Quimby Veneer Mill, which was known for its construction of airplane cockpits and cabin cruiser boats, before taking over the general store in the late 1960s.

Today, the restaurant is still there -- it’s the only one in town -- and most of the mills have closed. Preble & Robinson’s closed in 1976, the same year as the Quimby mill, which was owned by a family who donated money for the construction of their namesake Quimby Middle School.

The school, part of SAD 13,  is a whitewashed, wood-paneled building on Main Street, the same street as Thompson’s, the old Preble & Robinson’s and Wes Baker’s house. It’s one of the few things to have survived in the decades since the Quimby Mill closed.

The district, which also includes Moscow Elementary School and Upper Kennebec Valley Memorial High School and splits a principal’s position among the three schools, has also been discussing a possible closure for the last few years.

This week they will be mailing a survey seeking public comments on the possibility of closing one or more schools in the district in an effort to restructure and cut costs in light of declining enrollment numbers.

In the past, the district has been focused on the possibility of closing Quimby Middle School and moving those students to the high school, but it is now presenting new restructuring scenarios to the public.

“In the past the focus has been on Quimby, but I think we need to look at other proposals for saving the district money,” said school board president Brian Malloy.

“Enrollment has been dropping dramatically and with that, our state funding. Every year we seem to be in a financial bind,” he said.

Bob Henderson is a former English teacher who retired from the district in 2003. He said that when he began teaching at the high school in 1966, he remembers having about 200 students in grades nine through 12.

Today that number is closer to the enrollment for the entire district, where there are 221 students enrolled in grades kindergarten through 12, according to the superintendent’s office.

Ten years ago, in 2002, there were 355 students enrolled in the district.
“Ever since they closed the Quimby Mill in the 1970s, it seems the numbers have gradually gone down,” Henderson said.

Malloy said the district has prepared four proposals and is asking that residents return the completed survey to any of the district schools by Nov. 6 or return it at a polling place on Nov. 6.

The survey outlines the initial financial costs and the estimated amount of money that would be saved in four different scenarios:

• Combine Moscow Elementary School and Quimby Middle School in the high school building, close Upper Kennebec Valley Memorial High School and send high school students out of district. Estimated initial cost: $70,000–$90,000. Esti-mated annual savings: $280,000–$320,000.

• Close Moscow Elementary School. Move grades pre-kindergarten to four into the Quimby building and move grades five through eight into the high school. Estimated initial cost: $35,000–$55,000. Estimated annual savings: $90,000–$110,000.

• Close Quimby Middle School. Move grades five through eight into the high school building. Estimated initial cost: $20,000–$40,000. Estimated annual savings: $75,000–$90,000.

(Continued on page 2)

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