BINGHAM — The school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to keep Quimby Middle School open, but some members made clear that the problems of decreasing revenue and declining student population should still be addressed.

How to cut costs is a question that has been raised many times in the district serving Bingham and Moscow, in addition to small rural districts across the state: How can a district maintain education quality without increasing tax commitments as fewer students enroll over the years?

Bingham school board member Thomas Moore said Wednesday that he voted to keep Quimby open because he was worried that closing it would create other problems, such as mixing Quimby fifth graders with older students when they were transferred to classrooms at Upper Kennebec Valley Memorial High School.

But, he said, he hopes School Administrative District 13 and its communities will develop a strategic plan at a series of meetings about how to address the problem. If Quimby does close in the future, where would the students fit in the high school? he said. Should the district close the high school instead and tuition its students elsewhere?

“I joined the unanimous decision because there were some valid points raised, but I strongly wanted us to go ahead with these meetings and come up with something and get the public to reach a consensus about where they would like to see the community go, particularly with education,” he said.

Superintendent Virginia Rebar said it’s clear that something has to be done to address anticipated budget shortfalls, but the solution is still unclear.

The school board is set to vote at its next meeting whether to establish a long-range planning subcommittee that would develop several options for the district, along with their advantages and disadvantages, she said. Staff members, residents and parents would then be invited to attend a series of meetings to see whether they can settle on a clear vision for the district.

Ray Francoeur, also a Bingham board member, said he decided to vote to keep Quimby open after listening to residents.

“I went to quite a few people. I asked them what they wanted because we the school board members are their representative. Out of 18, two did want to close the school, and the balance did not want to close the school,” he said.

Moscow board member Pauline Lagasse said her main concern was having younger children in the same building as older high school students, particularly without a plan for how the building would be altered if it took in the additional 70 students in grades five through eight.

Would a new bathroom need to be built? she asked. How would the younger and older students be separated? Would the school library have to move?

“I think we have to know what we’re going to do with the kids after they get there,” she said. The high school also has around 70 students.

Others questioned whether the communities would still have use of Quimby’s gymnasium, Lagasse added. If it closed, Quimby’s ownership could revert to the town, and the town could sell the building.

Moore urged people to consider the long-term impact of making cost-cutting decisions now, even if it seems like the savings aren’t large in comparison to the district’s approximately $3 million annual budget.

It was estimated that closing Quimby would save $95,000 per year, but the first year the district would have to convert the former industrial arts building into a central office. Currently the superintendent works out of Quimby.

“Twenty years down the line, though — that’s what I’m talking about. But people aren’t seeing that. The reaction is an emotional gut reaction to some favorite program or some favorite school or whatever, in the sense that they don’t want to change at all,” Moore said.

It won’t be possible to maintain the status quo without an increase in taxes, he said, so people should not complain about anticipated rising costs when budget season rolls around.

“Some of the people in the audience who didn’t want us to close Quimby are the very ones who want us to be cutting the budget every year,” he said.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368


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