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Towns to Vote on Closing Schools 

Both the Cherryfield and Columbia Falls elementary schools are slated to close at the end of this year, following a decision by S.A.D 37.But voters next week could decide to keep the schools open — at a significant cost.”This town doesn’t have a lot. We have a church, we have a post office, and we have a very nice school,” says Columbia Falls Selectman Vance Pineo. “And, we want to keep it.”Columbia Falls selectmen say the state has put residents of the town in a tough spot. They can vote to keep their school open, and face a tax increase — which they figure would be around 70-percent — or close their school.”The general consensus is no, we don’t want to close our school,” says Selectman Grace Falzarano.”It’s a hard choice to go into a voting booth, and vote to raise my taxes by 70 percent — or to close my grammar school,” says Selectman Alan Grant. “That’s a no-win situation.”They say most people in town can’t afford the increase, no matter how much they want to keep the school they call the center of their community.”They’re forcing the community to close the school, ourselves, because of dollars and cents. That’s what they’ve done for us,” says Falzarano.S.A.D 37 Superintentendent David Beal says the money just isn’t there.”The board understands fully what the loss of those schools in the communities would mean, absolutely,” he says. “But, there is a tremendous burden on taxpayers as well because of the loss of revenues in the state.”If voters keep the schools, taxes would go up to cover the projected costs savings from closing.”Until we have all those figures we don’t know what the assessment would be to Columbia Falls or to Cherryfield. But whatever that assessment is, obviously costs will go up,” says Beal.He says no matter what voters decide next Tuesday, it will take the district awhile to recover. Selectmen Pineo says, “I just don’t see, really, much of a choice.”Columbia Falls held a public hearing Monday on the issue. Cherryfield is holding a similar hearing tonight at 6:30 at the elementary school.