A year-long process in Regional School Unit 3 to gauge the costs, benefits and public sentiment around possibly closing Monroe Elementary School is nearing its conclusion, as a local stakeholder group prepares to present its findings to the school board on Monday, Sept. 26.

Superintendent Heather Perry said the district started looking at closing a school in the face of declining enrollment across the district and chose to focus on the school where officials believed the fewest number of students would be affected.

Perry said the district has lost roughly 80 students in the past six years, or roughly 5 percent of its total enrollment.

Monroe Elementary School currently has 58 students in grades pre-K through five, with roughly 32 from Monroe and the remainder primarily from Jackson. The pre-K program was added this year in an effort to boost enrollment and accounts for four of the school’s students.

When the decision was made to look at closing Monroe Elementary School, the district created a stakeholder committee composed of municipal officials from Monroe and Jackson, one parent and one community member from each town and a member of the RSU 3 board.

Using figures from the 2009-10 school year, the group determined the district would save $210,000 by closing Monroe Elementary School. Perry said those numbers would need to be revised with data from the 2010-11 school year, which she thought might increase the savings, but not by more than $6,000 to $7,000.

The cost savings analysis comes as a requirement from the Maine Department of Education, in part because if the district votes to close the school, towns affected by the closure can hold a referendum to keep the school open. An affirmative vote would obligate residents to pay the full cost of operating the school, a financial figure determined by the district and validated by the state.

To date, the stakeholders committee has held eight meetings and two public forums on the prospect of closing the Monroe School. The group meets for a final session on Thursday, Sept. 22 at the Mount View School to finalize a presentation that will be given to the RSU 3 board at its Sept. 26 meeting.

Perry said no action would be requested of the board at that meeting. Instead, it will be a chance for the stakeholders to present their findings and field questions from the board. The board will likely accept public comment, Perry said, but the emphasis of the meeting will be on the presentation from the stakeholders group.

The RSU 3 board is scheduled to vote on whether or not to close the school at a meeting to be held at the Monroe School, Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.

In a draft report dated September 2011 and posted on the district’s website, the majority of stakeholders recommended against closing the school, arguing, in part, that “the education that students receive at Monroe Elementary School may be ‘transported’ elsewhere in terms of basic instruction in math, or reading. However, the more intrinsic values of place may not be transplanted to another school.”

Among other points, the report cites the active parent teacher group and 20 acres of “outdoor classroom” in the land adjacent to the school as difficult or impossible to replace.

The report concludes: “This conversation about a possible school closure has spurred the thinking of many members of our community. It has ‘rallied our troops’ so to speak. We believe that we can keep Monroe Elementary School open and see a cost reduction to taxpayers down the road.”

A minority report from the stakeholders committee concludes that studies on the social and economic problems of closing a rural school cited by the majority aren’t a good measure because of the proximity of another elementary school — Morse Memorial School in Brooks, which is seven miles away, and according to the report, has enough classroom space for all of the Monroe Elementary School students.The minority report also cites a higher cost per pupil at Monroe Elementary School, the potential savings to the district and the district’s history of closing smaller schools.

Perry, who has served as facilitator for the stakeholder group, called the process of looking at the school closure “a lengthy one.”

“I don’t think that anyone’s going to say we haven’t taken our time to go over the issues,” she said.

By the same token, the superintendent said she believes the discussion has brought members of the community together in a constructive way, regardless of the outcome.

“At this point it’s a toss-up as far as what the board will do,” Perry said.