Brunswick School Board opts for administrative shuffle instead of new school principal

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BRUNSWICK — With ominous budget deliberations looming, the School Board Wednesday voted 7-2 to reorganize administration in preparation for a new elementary school.

The decision, opposed by board members Corrine Perreault and Michelle Small, came after the board first considered hiring a new principal up to a year before the Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School opens in 2011.

But, with the cuts to state education aid moving from backdrop to front and center, and with town officials predicting layoffs, the majority of board members opted to shuffle current administrators rather than embark on a search and hiring process that could have added $150,000 to the 2010-2011 budget.

Board Chairman Byron Watson and member Michele Joyce said their decision was based largely on the fiscal crisis. That situation will force the district to tap its reserve account to meet Gov. John Baldacci’s proposed curtailment order, which will strip $670,000 from Brunswick’s current budget. The prospects for the next spending plan are even more dire. 

Watson said it would be hard to justify spending up to $150,000 to hire a new principal “during this dire time.” After the meeting, Watson said his decision would have been different if the financial outlook were brighter.

“If this was 1998, this wouldn’t even have come before us,” he said.

Joyce agreed, saying she’d initially hoped for a national search to find the best principal for the new school. She said the current budget outlook changed her mind. 

Perreault and Small said they were disappointed by the reorganization proposal, which was drafted by Superintendent Paul Perzanoski at the board’s request.

“I support the idea of a nationwide search,” Small said. “We owe it to our children to find the best principal. At this point, we don’t know if we have the best principal.”

Beginning in February, that principal will be Jean Skorapa, the district’s current curriculum coordinator. Skorapa will continue as the curriculum coordinator, too, on a short-term basis.

John Paige, the current principal at Coffin Elementary School, will assist Skorapa in the transition. In 2011, Paige will become curriculum coordinator.

Jordan Acres Principal Scott Snedden and Longfellow Principal Greg Scott will also help with transition duties for the district’s two primary elementary schools beginning in February. When Longfellow closes, Scott will become the principal at Coffin School.

Perzanoski said that all four administrators had been consulted before the board was presented with the proposal. In a memo to the board, Perzanoski said the reorganization puts the administrators in “their areas of strength and provides the School Department with capable, strong leadership.”

“It also is a fiscally sound approach to a growing financial burden,” he added.

The board’s approval sets the stage for another big decision about redistricting. The board is expected to consider several proposals, including one that would eventually send every student to each elementary school.

Proponents say the move will resolve equality issues, while opponents fear it will mean the end of Brunswick’s neighborhood schools.

The Longfellow closure will leave Brunswick with three elementary schools – Jordan Acres, Coffin School and the upcoming Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School.

The all-schools plan could place all pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students at Jordan Acres, grades one and two at Coffin and students grades three through five at Stowe.

Last summer, Perzanoski said the potential benefits would allow Jordan Acres’ open-campus concept to accommodate pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students without incurring as much renovation cost – a steadily approaching necessity at the 1970s-era school.

Other redistricting options include keeping the K-2/3-5 configuration, but instituting new districts. The third option is school- and theme-based choice throughout the district.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or [email protected]