“Funding cliff” could cause RSU 34 school shakeup

Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 8:35 PM EST
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OLD TOWN, Maine (WABI) - RSU 34 is facing what they’ve called a “funding cliff” as several grant sources are set to expire.

One possible outcome could involve a major shuffle for three district schools.

Children from kindergarten to grade 3 at the Viola Rand School in Bradley may soon have a new home over at Old Town Elementary School.

The proposal, brought on by funding challenges, would effectively remove all classes but Pre-K from the Viola Rand School, which would then be used as office space.

RSU 34 Superintendent Matthew Cyr notes the process is still early and developing, but it’s out of necessity.

“We’re not looking to close the Viola Rand as a school,” Cyr said. “We’re looking to redistrict. This is something that has been done several times over the last decade in response to either changes in enrollment, access to programming, and of course, the pandemic.”

The district has seen a significant enrollment decrease - there are nearly as many kids from pre-k to fifth grade across the district now as there were in just the Old Town Elementary five years ago.

“It’s no mystery - Maine does have the oldest population of any state in our nation,” Cyr said. “Less babies are being born. We did look closely at birth rates, we looked at population studies, housing projects, within each of our communities.”

Less students means less funding. Add in the end of several grants, including pandemic funds, plus rising curriculum, facilities and employment costs, and it’s a recipe to leave RSU 34 in the red - unless it takes action.

“We need to have these conversations now, so that we’re making deliberate and thoughtful decisions for the future of our district, and not responding reactively,” Cyr said.

Cyr knows it would be a big change for the Bradley community.

“Small schools do play an important part of communities, and we truly respect that,” Cyr said. “That’s why I believe this is a very sensitive topic for families who that school is near and dear to them.

“Unfortunately, the challenges that we face are an RSU challenge, and not necessarily one of a challenge within one of our communities. And, when we look to the future of how we can create sustainability, and capacity to grow as a district, we have to consider all of our resources, all of our students and all of our communities.”

Officials say it’s too early to know what this plan would mean for teachers’ jobs. Cyr said meetings with potentially affected staff have been ongoing.