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Isolated Town Fights To Save Nine-Pupil School

March 6, 1987

MONROE BRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ Residents of this town of 140 people have no church or general store and they lost their only industry two years ago, but they are hanging on to their nine-student school.

The school board decided this week to ignore the advice of officials and voters and keep the school open.

″We made an awful lot of people mad, but we did what we thought was right,″ said board member Eleanor Wiley. ″If I was looking to buy a house here, I’d think twice if I knew the town didn’t even have a school.″

The school, with two teachers, includes kindergarten through eighth grade, and expects to expand its enrollment by one next fall, said Superintendent Joseph J. Joseph. There is only one smaller school district in Massachusetts, on the island of Cuttyhunk.

In an advisory vote earlier this month, residents voted 23-20 in favor of closing the 50-year-old schoolhouse and busing the students to a 70-student school 14 miles away.

″The people are unstinting in their dedication and support of the school and always have been,″ agreed Joseph. ″But how can you justify an $80,000 budget for 10 students?″

Most members of the town’s board of selectmen favored closing the school. Mrs. Wiley’s husband, Edward, who serves as a selectman and was the only member of the board to back the school board, said the issue has divided the town.

″There are those that are dead set against keeping it open and those that are just as vehement about keeping it open. The only sure thing, the issue isn’t dead yet,″ he said.

Monroe Bridge hugs a hillside above the Deerfield River and during the winter is sometimes accessible only through Vermont.

The history of the town includes a judge who dismissed charges against 98 people caught at an unlicensed boxing match in 1928 because, he declared, he’d been to Monroe and knew how little there was to do.

Things have gone steadily downhill in the two years since the closing of Deerfield Specialty Papers, which had made glassine windows for envelopes.

After the workers tried and failed to buy the plant, younger people started moving out. The population of the town dropped from 179 to 141 and the school enrollment fell from 19 to 9.

Sandy Goodermote, who was born and raised in Monroe, teaches the one first- grader and two fourth-graders. Guy Patalano, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who said he fell in love with the Berkshires, has the remaining students, two each in grades 5, 6 and 7. Older students are bused to North Adams.

Joseph said the Monroe enrollment has been steadily dropping since a high of 37 in the early 1970s.

″It’s not so much the mill, but the declining birthrate,″ he said. ″The young families with children aren’t moving in, because there is nothing here for a young family.″

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