March 29, 2020

SAD 25 faces school consolidation> Vote by Patten residents means town’s 2 elementary facilities will stay open

PATTEN — Local residents made it clear Tuesday that they want their local elementary schools kept open.

What isn’t clear, however, is just how SAD 25 officials will proceed with the consolidation of district schools.

In November, residents of Sherman, Stacyville and Patten voted to close their elementary schools to pave the way for the district to consolidate all students in the junior high and senior high schools in Stacyville.

With two schools up for closing in Patten, however, there was confusion over what to do. Some people wanted only one school closed. When voters approved both schools for closing, opponents petitioned for the second election, which was held Tuesday.

This time, residents decided to keep the schools open by a vote of 267-144. In all, 411 votes were cast, 23 more than in November.

“To tell you the truth, when I woke up this morning and it was all raining and icy, I didn’t think we’d get 300,” said Michael Fahey, a spokesman for Concerned Citizens of Patten, the group that formed to push the effort, on Tuesday night.

SAD 25 officials now must decide how they will proceed. For nearly a dozen years, they have touted consolidation as the only solution to rising costs and decreasing enrollment.

Since Sherman and Stacyville voted to close their schools, the district will continue with its consolidation plan, said school board Chairman Mel Gould of Stacyville on Tuesday. The board, he noted, has no legal authority to ignore the election results.

He said the board will have to adjust its renovation plans for the junior and senior high schools to take into account that fewer pupils will be going there because of the Patten vote.

The board will hold a regular meeting Jan. 7, when it is expected to accept the results of Tuesday’s election and begin discussions on how to proceed.

Gould was concerned that the two towns that voted to close their schools now will be forced to pay for the Patten schools, thus diverting money for programs to operate schools that are 50 to 90 years old and in need of extensive repairs.

Gould said he was not in favor of spending a lot of money on the two aging schools.

“I would resign before I vote to put money into those schools,” he said.

When the latest vote results were announced Tuesday night, a cheer went up from the half-dozen members of CCP present at the Patten gym, which was the polling place.

For a while, CCP members were concerned they wouldn’t get a sufficient voter turnout. They needed 392 votes — the same number cast in November — in order for the results of Tuesday’s election to be valid. Without that number, the original vote would stand, regardless of the outcome Tuesday.

CCP members spent hours on the telephone Tuesday urging their supporters to vote, as well as taking absentee ballots to people who could not get out.

Representatives of the group declined to specify Tuesday night what they will do next. There are 85 pupils in Patten — about a third of the total 20 years ago — and little need for two school buildings.

When asked if CCP would pursue closing one of the two schools, Fahey said, “It’s possible. The first step is reorganizing the district fairly and equitably for everyone.”

He said that even with the vote behind them, it still was critical for people to attend school board meetings and voice their concerns so their wishes will be carried out.

Since Patten is still a member of SAD 25, the school board has the option of deciding which grades will remain in town.

Previously, school officials and board members said that if the Patten schools were kept open, they might keep kindergarten through second or third grades there but move fourth- and fifth-graders to the consolidated elementary school.

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