BINGHAM — When Cathy Foran came here about 33 years ago for a job teaching first grade in a one-room schoolhouse in West Forks, the area looked a lot different.

There were more businesses and not so many empty storefronts. There were enough students in School Administrative District 13 to have multiple classes at each grade level. Other communities – including the Forks, West Forks and Caratunk – were part of a thriving school district along the Kennebec River in central Somerset County.

Now Foran, a fourth-grade teacher at Quimby Middle School, has just 16 students in her class. And another change is in the works.

Earlier this month, residents in Bingham and Moscow, the two communities that now make up SAD 13, voted to close Quimby Middle School at the end of the school year, meaning students will be redistributed to the remaining two schools in the district.

It’s a similar story in many places around Maine where an aging population has led to declining school enrollments and forced districts to make decisions about the best way to balance budgets.

“I can’t say I’m happy it’s closing, but I certainly understand why it’s closing,” Foran said. “There used to be two (classrooms) at every grade level. There were a lot of kids. Now we’re down to 46 kids in this school for three different grades.”

60 SCHOOLS CLOSED SINCE ’08

More than 60 schools in Maine – most of them elementary and middle schools – have closed since the 2008-2009 school year because of enrollment declines.

That doesn’t count an additional 26 schools that closed and were replaced by new construction, according to the Maine Department of Education.

Enrollment in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 in public schools has dropped from 192,181 students in 2008-2009 to 182,496.

“Those numbers aren’t evenly distributed across the state,” said Yellow Light Breen, president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to sustainable economic growth in the state.

“Certainly rural areas have been hit harder. Some of (the school closures) are due to consolidation, but you couldn’t consolidate unless you had the room. If you have two schools built for 200 kids each and they only have 80 kids in them, then you can do that consolidation.”

FROM 254 TO 179 STUDENTS

In SAD 13, enrollment already has declined from 254 students in 2010-2011 to 179 students currently.

Quimby Middle School, which was built in the 1950s, when the town was still home to a thriving wood veneer mill, currently has a population of around 45 students in grades 4 to 6.

The mill closed in 1973, and with it went many of the area’s jobs.

Closing the school is something the school board has talked about on and off for about the last 10 years, though it was only recently that the board voted to pass a proposal on to residents, who approved it at the polls.

The tally was 83- 71 in Bingham and 84- 12 in Moscow.

“I’m sad it’s closing, but something has to happen because we have so many less kids,” said Debbie Hibbard, who with her husband owns the E.W. Moore & Son Pharmacy on Main Street in Bingham.

She said a lack of jobs has caused many young people, including her own children, to move away.

“That makes sense, especially for families and children,” Hibbard said. “How are you going to support your family and children? There’s no jobs, no advancement potential, so they move.”

Superintendent Virginia Rebar said the issue of declining enrollment is what finally pushed the closure to approval. She believes it’s a similar story in many rural districts.