With declining enrollment, aging schools, MSAD 1 left with tough decisions

6 years ago

MSAD 1’s old school buildings have a much greater capacity than is required for our declining student population. The most likely but extremely difficult solution is to close two older elementary schools and consolidate our students into a repurposed middle school and high school. I will discuss the problem in this letter and later discuss the potential solutions.

For over three decades, MSAD 1 schools have experienced a decline in student enrollment. Presque Isle High School had a peak of over 1,200 students in 1975. That number is down to 540 in the 2017/2018 school year. The district responded to declining enrollment by the closure of four schools during that period. Training Elementary school closed in 1978, Gouldville Elementary school closed in 1999, Westfield Elementary School closed in 1998 and Cunningham Middle School closed in 2004 when the addition at the former Skyway Middle School was completed to accommodate 493 students which is now down to 345 students.

Those elementary school closures were heart-wrenchingly difficult and they reduced the number of “neighborhood” schools in the district, but in many ways, they were easy moves compared to the decisions facing the district today. In the past, the students from closed schools could basically be incorporated into the district’s existing schools. That option no longer exists. The district’s current schools serve K through second grade at Pine Street, third through fifth grade at Zippel, K through fifth at Mapleton, sixth through eighth at Presque Isle Middle School and 9-12 at PIHS.

With student enrollment for the whole district averaging a reduction of 1.7 percent per year for the last 13 years, all but one school, Pine Street, is under capacity. As a result, the cost of operations for each building per student is going up. If population trends continue, the problem will only get worse which means more dollars will be spent on buildings than on the actual education of our students.

While looking for solutions we need to ignore dreams that these trends will reverse themselves. At best, we can hope that our student population will level out. We also should ignore hopes that another town will transfer their students to our district. Every community has historically fought tooth and nail to preserve their schools and numerous offers to area towns to pool resources have been rejected. The Department of Education is not going to swoop in and save us. We need to acknowledge the problem of an existing infrastructure that is larger than the needs of our student population with a high school and middle school that are both well under capacity and we need to make the difficult decisions to remedy the problem.

Next week, I will address the District’s current buildings. In the meantime, I encourage everyone in the District to educate themselves and help with an eventual solution.

Frank Bemis

Presque Isle