Brunswick school chief balks at request for 4th school option

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BRUNSWICK — The School Board’s desire for another option to ease elementary school overcrowding prompted a sharp rebuke Wednesday from the superintendent of schools.

“Frankly, the indecision of the board is creating a very difficult, almost hostile work environment for us,” Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said. “Please, make up your mind, and do it soon, because my staff and I have really had about enough.”

The board has been debating the matter for the better part of two years.

Perzanoski made his comments shortly before the board voted 5-4 to gather information on splitting up the student population to create two kindergarten-through-fifth-grade elementary schools. 

The new proposal is an alternative to three other options already in front of the board: giving parents a choice of where to send their children, moving the second grade to portable units, or placing the fifth grade from the over-capacity Harriot Beecher Stowe Elementary School at Brunswick Junior High School. 

Any change would be implemented in the 2015-2016 school year.

Board members appeared to be leaning toward the latter option at a meeting last week, and were expected to vote on the matter on Wednesday.

Instead, Chairwoman Michele Joyce called for a late May board workshop to fully discuss the three proposals, even after receiving additional information on the junior high school proposal. 

Junior high Principal Walter Wallace reported that space constraints are not an issue if four portable classroom units are added at the school, costing approximately $250,000 over 10 years.

Facilities Director Paul Caron said busing students would also not be an issue, and rough projections from Perzanowski indicated that student population would remain relatively flat.

Board member Rich Ellis, who proposed the additional research, said he found the junior high option “very attractive,” but still had reservations about the lack of physical space and need for portables at the school. 

Creating two elementary schools could ease overcrowding and wind up being less expensive than the other proposals considered by the board, while using a traditional K-to-fifth-grade model the town has experience with, Ellis said.

His argument was supported by board member William Thompson, who called the option a “safety valve.”

“Finding out if that is even an option provides us potentially with a cost-effective immediate relief to overcrowding as we move forward with a decision about building a new school,” Thompson said. 

Board Member Chris McCarthy said he welcomes a workshop as an opportunity to discuss the board’s options on a philosophical level.

“I think it is fair to say it is completely unsettled,” McCarthy said. “The principal of expanding a middle school to include a 10- to 15-year-old age range is a district-level philosophical question.” He said the board is discussing more than just “shuffling kids around for capacity issues.”

The vote to pursue the additional option was taken after Perzanowski and board Member Brenda Clough urged the board to think about the other work, on the budget and tuition negotiations with neighboring towns, that the administration is undertaking. 

Ellis, Thompson and McCarthy were joined by Corinne Perreault and Joy Prescott in voting for the measure; Joyce, Clough, James Grant and Janet Conners were opposed.

Joyce expressed frustration after the vote.

“I am dismayed that we’re looking at going back and possibly changing the configuration to two (K-to-fifth-grade schools),” Joyce said. “We voted on a (kindergarten through second-grade school), we have staff that have been working on creating that environment, it really frustrates me.”

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 or Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.