BRUNSWICK — As the School Board wrestles with decisions about which of its elementary schools to keep open, a survey of school staff and the public doesn’t exactly shed light on the matter.
During a Tuesday meeting of the board, Superintendent Paul Perzanoski expressed frustration with criticism, and issued an impassioned plea for residents to exercise patience in helping administrators work through the aftermath of the closing of Brunswick Naval Air Station.
“The transition of any community is always uncomfortable,” he said. “This is probably the most uncomfortable community I have ever worked in. … We have to work together through this uncomfortable period and stop pointing fingers at each other. … We need the support. … When I got speaker after speaker coming to the podium all this year and all I hear is how horrible we are, because of the transition, it bothers the hell out of me.”
The staff at Harriet Beecher Stowe and Coffin elementary schools were asked to participate in an online survey that asked whether it would be better to have two schools or one for the district’s 600 students in kindergarten through second grade.
The two options are under consideration by the board, which is trying to decide whether Jordan Acres should be reopened.
In one scenario, Jordan Acres would house 200 to 300 students, while Coffin would house 300 to 400 students.
Another option would involve closing Jordan Acres permanently, and sending all of the students to a so-called “super school” at Coffin that would house as many as 600 students.
The online survey drew 251 responses, including 28 votes from members of the public, who were not specifically targeted by the survey.
When the votes were tallied, Perzanoski said, there wasn’t much of a mandate for one option over the other.
“Put all that together; it’s 125 that voted for two elementary schools, and 126 that voted for one,” he said. “I don’t think we learned much.”
During a public hearing before the meeting, residents expressed concern about the idea of a larger school, which they said could be intimidating and unfriendly to young children.
“I live in the Jordan Acres neighborhood,” Dana Bateman said. “I really do think that history may judge the super school model poorly. We’ll look back and say, ‘oh yeah, look what we had to do during those decades when we were really underfunding education.'”
Board members and members of the public also expressed concern that the process might be moving too quickly. In order to be funded, a facilities plan must be included in the town’s Capital Improvement Plan, which is due to the Town Council by June 11.
If the district’s plan is not included in the CIP, then it will not be voted on by the public in November.
Perzanoski said the process has been ongoing for almost a year, and that it is time to make a decision.
“Because of the length of a project like this, sometimes it seems that we haven’t spent the time on the issues,” he said. “The time has been spent on the issues. Have we done a good job of getting all the information out to you? I don’t think we could ever get all the information out to you.”
Perzanoski said that a failure to pick a course of action would force second-grader to continue to attend Stowe, which runs counter to the plans for that school.
“Grade 2 does not belong in that building,” the school chief said. “We haven’t had the opportunity to run it as it has been intended. It’s extremely important to us to get Grade 2 out of that building so that we can see how we can run it with Grades 3 to 5.”
After much discussion, the board asked Perzanoski to explore whether it would be possible to move forward with a request under the CIP without fully committing to a course of action in the facilities master plan.