Winslow voters will have a very important decision to make on Election Day, Nov. 7. They are being asked to borrow and pay back at least $13.73 million, including interest, over the next 20 years to close the existing junior high school and expand the high school.

Of that total amount, $5.14 million will be spent to expand and renovate the high school for the addition of the seventh and eighth grades, $755,000 to expand the auxiliary gym at the high school, $230,000 to expand the cafeteria at the high school, and $2.95 million for a 600-seat performing arts center. Another $600,000 will be dedicated to the renovation of the elementary school to accommodate the sixth grade. In addition, $650,000 will be provided for demolition of the junior high if other uses cannot be found.

The voters’ decision could require the median household to pay at least $158 more per year in property taxes. In total, Winslow property taxpayers will pay at least $687,000 per year for the next 20 years to repay the borrowing proposed. Combined with the existing school debt payment of $415,000 per year, the median household in Winslow will need to pay more than $250 per year to support the education debt.

There is some critical information that the Winslow voters need to consider.

Winslow’s student enrollment is decreasing. In 2000, there were 1,506 students enrolled in the Winslow school system. In 2015, there were 1,184, a decrease of 322 students in 15 years. Per the 2016 Winslow School Department forecast, there will be 1,034 students enrolled in 2020, an anticipated decrease of another 150 students in the next five years. What is unknown is whether the student enrollment will continue to decrease after 2020 and if there be excess school space.

The justification provided for a $2.95 million expenditure for the performing arts center is based on the stated need for more space to support the programs and activities.

In 2008, there were 527 students in the high school utilizing the existing 210-seat auditorium. In 2020, there will be a projected combined grade 7-12 enrollment of 533. Why has the existing structure worked for the last several years with the same number of students but now needs a $2.95 million capital expenditure?

The Winslow School Board concluded that the junior high structure was no longer viable because of the decrease in the school’s grade 6-8 enrollment from 413 students in 2000 to a projected 227 students in 2020, and the significant capital investment needed to restore the structure to an acceptable standard.

When the School Board voted to close the junior high in August 2016, it was reported in a Aug. 23 newspaper article that the proposal to consolidate to the existing elementary and high schools would cost less than $5 million. By January 2017, it was reported that the updated plan would cost $8.3 million with a “full” performing arts center. Voters are now being asked to support a $10 million project.

The obvious question is, if the decision to close the junior high was based on an assumption that consolidation would cost less than $5 million, should another look be taken now that the price tag is approaching $10 million?

As the school enrollment decreased, education spending per student increased. In 2000, the Winslow school system spent less than $6,500 per student. By 2016, the spending increased to more than $12,000 per student. Winslow property tax payers are supporting the increased spending per student. In the interest of positive collaboration, the Winslow council unanimously asked the School Board to form a joint advisory committee to review and recommend what could be done in the future to improve costs and education results. Unfortunately, the Winslow School Board refused to take a vote on the proposal.

I would urge Winslow residents to vote early or on Nov. 7, as the outcome will have a significant impact on property taxes. A large voter turnout will ensure that the will of the people of Winslow is represented.

Ken Fletcher is a member of the Winslow Town Council.

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