September 18, 2020

SAD 27 discusses decrease in pupils Residents fear closure of St. Francis Elementary

FORT KENT – Shrinking population and decreasing student enrollment prompted nearly 40 St. Francis residents to meet with the SAD 27 school board Friday afternoon to make proposals to increase the student population of their local elementary school.

Enrollment at the St. Francis Elementary School, one of four elementary schools in SAD 27, is down to 80 pupils. While shrinking overall population is part of the problem, some parents have been successful over the last couple of years in getting school board permission to have their elementary school children educated at the Fort Kent Elementary School, adding to the drain.

St. Francis residents at the meeting want those 12 children returned to the St. Francis Elementary School, and they want the eastern boundary of the school zone moved east from the St. John Catholic Church to the St. John-Fort Kent town line. The latter action would increase student population by 25 pupils.

The St. Francis school educates children in prekindergarten through grade eight. Included in the pupil mix are children from Allagash tuitioned to SAD 27 schools.

Residents fear the transferring of seventh- and eighth-graders to the Fort Kent system and the possible closing of their school.

Arnold Martin, one of two spokesmen for the St. Francis contingent, told the school board that an Allagash student educated at Fort Kent would spend 15 hours a week on a school bus. The number of hours climbs even higher if the child is involved in athletics.

Martin said St. John Plantation children attending school in Fort Kent spend an hour on the bus to get to school. If they attended the St. Francis school, he said, the trip would take 20 minutes.

Laurie Michaud, a St. Francis resident, was opposed to the idea. She works in Fort Kent and was granted permission to have her second-grader transferred to Fort Kent.

“I had problems at the St. Francis Elementary School and could see that they would not be resolved,” she told the school board. “I hope he doesn’t have to go through that again.”

Michaud would not go into the reason she wanted her son transferred, but she said it has made all the difference in the world for the boy. She is a former employee of the St. Francis school and now works at the Fort Kent school.

She also told the school board that St. John parents she has talked to are disheartened about the possibility of their children going to the St. Francis school instead of Fort Kent.

Michaud denied Martin’s insinuation that parents want their children at the Fort Kent school because of baby-sitting situations.

“I’m looking for what’s right for my child,” she said. “His education has been enhanced.”

School Board Chairman Bertrand Michaud, from Fort Kent, also denied that children were changed for baby-sitting reasons. He said some were changed at the prompting of physicians.

He also said some St. John parents told him they would look to home schooling if forced to send their children to school in St. Francis.

Joel Bossie, a school board member, asked if St. John residents had been surveyed on the question of sending their children to the St. Francis school. He said that may be an option, if the question comes before the school board.

Superintendent Sandra Bernstein said the transferring of seventh- and eighth-graders from St. Francis to Fort Kent and the closing of the school at St. Francis have not been discussed by the school board.

“The transferring of seventh- and eighth-graders has been proposed by a recent University of Maine study, but it has not been discussed by the school board,” she said. “The closing of an elementary school was also proposed by the study.”

“Some students who were allowed to transfer had legitimate reasons, others did not,” Sen. John L. Martin, a member of the school board, said. “If [the transferring of seventh- and eighth-graders] comes along, we will have to look at it.

“I’m also sure we will have to look at zone lines for each school at some time,” Martin continued. “School zone lines have changed in the past.”

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