Three small Washington County schools face similar challenges differently

“It’s a hard thing to close a school. There are years of history and years of traditions.”
books sorted in bins by subject in a classroom
Photo by Gabe Souza.
This story was originally published by the Quoddy Tides.

While Charlotte has decided to close its school, unless a petition forces a town-wide referendum, two other towns in the region that face similar challenges of low enrollment and little state funding assistance have been successfully keeping their elementary schools open.

Both Whiting and Wesley have few students and low state subsidies, but support for the local schools in those towns remains fairly strong. Both of the schools are in AOS 96.

The Whiting Village School has an enrollment of 25 students this year, while the Wesley Elementary School does not have any students, according to AOS 96 Superintendent Scott Porter.

In Charlotte, which is in AOS 77, there are 23 elementary-age children, but only 12 are now attending the Charlotte Elementary School.

In Wesley, the state subsidy was only $6,515 and the local share was $274,481, with the budget for this year having been designed for the school being in operation.

Whiting, as a minimum receiver district with a large amount of shore-frontage, only received $46,831 in subsidy for the current school year, with the local taxpayer share being $759,386.

In comparison, in Charlotte the state subsidy for this year was $222,722, and the local share was less than half of Whiting’s amount, at $373,662.

Charlotte residents, though, have voted five times to reject the school budget that’s been approved by the school board, despite it being less than the previous year’s budget.

With lack of sufficient support for the school budget, low enrollment and another drop in state subsidy for the coming year, the school board finally voted 2-1 on February 12 to close the school after this school year.

Likewise, the Wesley school board has now voted twice to close the school. Last year, though, citizens petitioned for a town referendum and then voted to keep the school open. This year after the school board voted to close the school, a petition was again circulated, and the referendum vote will be in April.

The town does have elementary age children, but all 10 of them attend school in Machias through superintendent’s agreements, Porter says. The one full-time teacher has taken another job; other staff were all part-time — an ed tech, food service worker and principal.

With the Wesley school not operating this year, there have been savings in the budget. Porter said if residents vote again to keep it open there will be questions about how to prepare the budget for next year.

“It’s a hard thing to close a school,” Porter commented. “There are years of history and years of traditions. It’s particularly hard on the older generations that went to the school in Wesley.”

As for Whiting, Porter notes that the residents in the town “are very supportive” of the school, while the community in Wesley is split. “It’s very contentious about closing the school.”

Whiting formerly was part of an SAD and there had been talk at that time of closing the school as the town grappled with how to save money, Porter recalled.

Now that it is part of an AOS, the town enjoys some independence, with its own school board and budget.

“They like having their own school,” he noted. “I believe there is a lot of support for that school. They do a great job of educating the kids.”


Edward French, Quoddy Tides

Edward French is the editor and publisher of The Quoddy Tides, a twice a month newspaper founded by his mother Winifred French in 1968. The Quoddy Tides, based in Eastport, is the most easterly newspaper published in the United States and covers eastern Washington County, Maine, and western Charlotte County, New Brunswick, including the Fundy Isles.
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