SAD 75 board votes to close West Harpswell School

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TOPSHAM — The School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors voted Thursday night to close the West Harpswell School after the 2009-2010 school year.

The vote was 13-1, with Jane Meisenbach casting the dissenting vote.

School board members said the decision was difficult, but they believe combining enrollment at the larger Harpswell Islands School will provide greater educational resources to Harpswell students.

West Harpswell School has fewer than 80 students and its enrollment is expected to drop below 60 by 2011. Harpswell Island School has about 100 students.

Opponents of the consolidation, including David I. Chipman of Harpswell, argued that his town has two distinct communities and should have a school for each one. They also cited West Harpswell School’s academic success and the role the school plays in attracting young families to that part of town.

The decision now goes to Harpswell voters. If residents vote in a referendum to keep the school open, the town would be responsible for providing SAD 75 with the financial savings the district would have realized if the school had been closed.

Thursday’s meeting at Mt. Ararat High School came a day after a Harpswell Board of Selectmen public hearing where there was little support expressed for consolidating the town’s two schools.

SAD 75 Superintendent Mike Wilhelm has said a merger and other reorganization strategies would provide all SAD 75 students equal access to educational resources. But opponents have criticized moving West Harpswell elementary students out of their community and the increased time those children would spend on the bus on the way to their new school. They’ve also said there has been a lack of information about cost savings that would actually be generated.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.