Brunswick school renovation funds removed from lending reform law

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BRUNSWICK — A provision that would have provided renovation funds for school districts affected by the 2011 closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station was stripped from a bill that President Obama signed into law Tuesday.

Removal of the measure will have immediate consequences for the Brunswick School Department, which had hoped to use money from the student lending reform legislation to pay for renovations to three of its elementary schools.

According to Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski, renovating the buildings would have allowed the town to consider grade reconfiguration for elementary students, and possibly provided start-up costs for a pre-kindergarten program.

Perzanoski said the pre-k program, reconfiguration and school renovations were linked financially and logistically. The district recently began reviewing grade configurations in order to make room for the program in one of the district’s elementary schools.

Perzanoski said reconfiguration would likely require renovations exceeding the $4 million earmarked in the district’s capital improvement program approved two years ago.

The decision by congressional lawmakers to a remove an amendment proposed by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, means the district will likely postpone its reconfiguration discussions, Perzanoski said.

Pingree introduced the amendment last September. She argued that base closure communities should be included in the legislation that freed up about $200 million to communities suffering from economic distress.

The U.S. House of Representatives backed Pingree’s amendment, which was included in a bill that passed last September, 253-171.

The bill stalled for months in the U.S. Senate, as Republicans decried its Democratic-sponsored reforms as a government takeover of student lending practices. But the legislation was given new life after Democrats bundled it with the recently signed health-care law.

Although last week’s passage of the school lending bill was a victory for Democrats, Pingree’s amendment became a casualty of the reconciliation process, according to her spokesman, Willy Ritch.

“This was an important (amendment) for Pingree,” Ritch said. “She understands how important to Brunswick investments in the school system are.”

Ritch said Pingree would continue to look for legislation that will provide school renovation funding for Brunswick and other communities affected by BNAS closure.

Meanwhile, Perzanoski said the district’s evaluation of grade configuration, and start-up for the pre-k program, will likely be put on hold. He said current and future fiscal constraints mean renovations probably couldn’t occur for some time.

“The town is certainly in no position to give us the money to cover the capital costs for renovations,” he said.

“We’ll probably have to put this off for a while,” he added. “If we don’t have the money for pre-k or renovations, then why change (grade configuration)?”

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or