MEG AUSTIN praises the decision to table the move of the fifth grade to Brunswick Junior High School on Wednesday.

MEG AUSTIN praises the decision to table the move of the fifth grade to Brunswick Junior High School on Wednesday.

BRUNSWICK

When faced with mounting opposition by the public over a controversial plan to move Brunswick’s fifth grade from Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary to the junior high school, the school board blinked.

On Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to accept a recommendation by Superintendent Paul Perzanoski to table the move until the fall of 2017.

The vote will give the district time to address student overcrowding as part of its long-range planning.

Resident Meg Austin praised Perzanoski’s recommendation as “excellent,” and said that the work done by staff and transition committees performed in anticipation of the move have helped bring the school community together.

School board member Janet Connors, however, appeared less than pleased.

“I feel bullied,” Connors said. “I feel bullied, I feel the school department has been bullied.” Opposition to the plan was not presented in a “logical, calm” manner, as opposed to the school district’s efforts to move the fifth grade, according to Connors.

“I hate to see all that effort sidelined,” Connors said.

Board member Connie Perreault said the board had been “bashed” by the opposition for not getting enough public input when making the initial decision to move the fifth grade. That is despite the fact that the process was publicly conducted.

“We really did spend a lot of time talking about this, it just didn’t get noticed,” Perreault said.

The move would have placed 182 students, eight teachers and additional personnel at the junior high school at a cost $285,509 in the first year and $323,685 after eight years, excluding technology upgrades.

Opposition to the plan had been growing for several months. Opponents collected more than a combined 1,000 signatures on physical and online petitions asking the board to reconsider.

Opponents, including newly elected board member Sarah Singer, decried the move as too costly, and raised concerns about the safety and disruption of the students.

Some suggested giving students and staff a choice in whether to move, allowing half of grade five to remain at HBS.

Perzanoski maintained that there would be no guarantee of a 50/50 split.

The board initially decided to move the fifth grade to the junior high school in May 2014.

Part of the rationale for moving the fifth grade was the population bubble at HBS. The district in 2013 predicted that 716 students would be enrolled at HBS by the current 2014-15 school year. Today, the population is 699, and the school’s population is expected to drop to 668 by the 2018-19 school year.

HBS opened with the intention of housing 600 students.

Last year, the school board considered other options including moving the second grade to Coffin School at a cost of more than $1.3 million and developing a school choice K-5 school at the Hawthorne School building.

Wednesday’s about-face was done, in part, “based on a change of circumstances,” said board member James Grant, adding that the board may still consider a grade 5- 8 program.

“All options should be on the table as we move forward,” Grant said.

Another option discussed would make both Coffin and HBS K-5 schools, and would require a decision to determine, geographically, which students attend which school.

Constructing an additional elementary school to replace the now defunct Jordan Acres School appears unlikely.

According to Perzanoski’s presentation: “We can no longer afford the operational cost of a third elementary school. Legislation since 2011 has seen our cost for education diverted to other areas such as charter schools, teacher retirement, and training to meet standards based on the common core and proficiency diplomas.”

He added: “A new school is minimally close to a decade away and without state funding possibilities, the burden to solve the facilities of the school department will fall at the local level.”

Meanwhile, resident Teresa Kelly-Gillis told the board that she and other opponents were “looking forward to continuing open dialogue” and working with staff and the district further on the issue.

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Population bubble

PART OF THE RATIONALE for moving the fifth grade was the population bubble at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary. The district in 2013 predicted that 716 students would be enrolled at HBS by the current 2014-15 school year. Today, the population is 699, and the school’s population is expected to drop to 668 by the 2018-19 school year. HBS opened with the intention of housing 600 students.


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