Harpswell voters will be given another chance Tuesday to keep one of the town’s elementary schools open.

A townwide referendum will ask voters if they want to close the West Harpswell Elementary School.

The referendum is the second attempt in two years by the school district, which represents Harpswell and three other towns, to close the K-5 school.

Last year, voters rejected a closure attempt by the directors of School Administrative District 75, opting instead to pay an additional $219,000 to keep the school open.

If voters elect to keep the 1950s-vintage school open for another year, the town can expect to pay an additional $190,000 to operate the building, according to the district.

“It’s up to the town to decide if the school closes,” said Michael Wilhelm, superintendent of schools for SAD 75. “Our plan (if the school closes) would be to give the school to the town.”

After voters rejected closing the school in March 2010, SAD 75 directors voted 12-2 in June to recommend closure of the school again — effective at the end of the 2010-2011 school year. West Harpswell’s student population would be merged with that of the Harpswell Island School.

School district officials say it makes sense to merge schools whose enrollments have declined since 2002. Even if the schools are combined, the district in a message posted on its website says Harpswell’s elementary school would be its smallest.

Robert McIntyre, an economics professor who lives in Harpswell, opposes the school closing plan.

He says the West Harpswell school is one of the best-performing schools in Cumberland County.

“Consolidation will do nothing to improve the quality of education,” he said.

McIntyre is also concerned about taking students from the West Harpswell school and busing them more than 11 miles to Harpswell Island School.

He says having to endure long school bus rides — in the vicinity of 45 minutes, twice a day — does not benefit young students.

“As we looked into this more deeply, we discovered there was a fierce desire to close the school, but no credible reason to do it,” he said. “It’s simply crazy to close a neighborhood school that is functioning so well.”

McIntyre is a member of Friends for Harpswell Education, a group that opposes consolidation.

Wilhelm said having all of the town’s elementary students under one roof increases the district’s ability to offer quality educational programming.

Teachers who currently teach combined grades, for example, would be able to teach a single grade level.

“The board feels consolidation is in the best interests of the students,” Wilhelm said.

SAD 75 also includes the towns of Bowdoin, Bowdoinham and Topsham.

Friends for Harpswell Education say if the town closes the school, it will have to maintain it at a cost of $25,000 a year.

The group also warns that giving up control of one of its elementary schools increases the chances in the future of the district’s closing Harpswell Island School and busing Harpswell students to Topsham.

McIntyre said uncertainty surrounding the school’s future prompted his group to file a petition last week with the Harpswell town clerk that calls for the town to withdraw from SAD 75. The petition, which contains 339 signatures, must still be certified by the town before it can move forward.

If the petition is validated, McIntyre said the secession effort will proceed regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.

Voting will take place at the Merriconeag Grange Hall, Cundy’s Harbor Community Building and the Old Orr’s Island School House.

For more information about the referendum question, go to www.link75.org.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]