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SAD 75 again awaits word from state on application to close Harpswell school

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SAD 75 again awaits word from state on application to close Harpswell school

TOPSHAM — School Administrative District 75 has resubmitted an application to the state to close West Harpswell School, Superintendent Mike Wilhelm said last week.

Maine Department of Education Commissioner Susan Gendron told SAD 75 last month that she could not approve its first "lack of need" report until it addressed two issues: the district's offer of school choice and its impact on enrollment, and the rise in transportation costs that the closure of the school is expected to trigger.

The Friends for Harpswell Education, a group fighting the school closure, cited both issues last month during a meeting with Gendron.

"We made the two changes that the commissioner was looking for," Wilhelm said of the Nov. 13 resubmission. "We added information about elementary school choice that parents have, and we recalculated the cost savings by subtracting the additional transportation costs from the transportation line."

While SAD 75 initially determined that closing the school would have saved about $232,000 last year, based on an analysis of fiscal 2009 expenses, the new analysis cites a $219,000 savings.

Although Gendron can approve or deny the application, the ultimate authority to close the school lies with SAD 75 and Harpswell voters.

The School Board voted 13-1 in June to close the school and move its students to the Harpswell Islands School. Harpswell residents can vote to keep the school open in a referendum that will likely be held next year. If they do, the town would ultimately have to pay SAD 75 the cost savings, which would also require authorization from Town Meeting.

One key factor behind the School Board's decision, also cited in the lack of need report, is declining enrollment at West Harpswell School. The report also says the district could better meet Harpswell children's needs if the students were in a larger school.

Opponents of the closure maintain it will remove young children during the day from their familiar
West Harpswell School community, and force them to endure longer bus rides to the Harpswell Islands School.

Wilhelm said the Education Department has 10 days after receiving the application to ask questions, after which Gendron has another 10 days to make a decision.

The full application can be viewed at harpswell.maine.gov.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.