Brunswick survey finds parents open to alternatives to 5th-grade move

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BRUNSWICK — A new survey on the proposed move of fifth-graders from Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School to Brunswick Junior High School found parents are still largely opposed.

But it also showed support for some potential alternatives.

The survey, which was released at Wednesday night’s School Board meeting, was conducted after Superintendent Paul Perzanoski gave a presentation on possible grade configuration options in February.

A previous survey conducted by the School Department showed that a large number of people who responded were opposed to the plan to move fifth-graders to BJHS.

The board unanimously decided to put the brakes on that plan at its Feb. 11 meeting, postponing a move approved last May. As a result HBS will remain grades two through five until at least 2017.

Perzanoski said Wednesday that in the next two years, the School Department will keep gathering more information about the best way to remedy overcrowding at HBS.

The results of the new survey, which had 538 responses as of March 31, reinforce respondents’ strong opposition to moving the fifth grade to BJHS: 406 respondents said they “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with moving fifth-grade classes, compared with only 38 who said they “agree” or “strongly agree.”

Nor were the respondents happy with the idea of splitting the fifth grade between HBS and BJHS, with 400 participants opposing the idea and just 42 in support.

About two-thirds of the survey respondents identified themselves as parents or guardians. The remainder were other residents, School Department employees, or students.

Perzanoski said this was “not the most scientific of surveys,” but could still be a helpful tool in identifying the best path forward.

The new survey also showed participants responding favorably to a couple proposed plans not contained in the previous survey.

For example, more than half of respondents said they “agree” or “strongly agree” that second-grade classes at HBS should move to Coffin Elementary School. Just over a quarter said they opposed that move, with the remainder “neutral.”

Although it was not asked in the survey, several respondents proposed renovating the Jordan Acres Elementary School to accommodate the crowding.

“During the past decade the Town has let Jordan Acres sit empty and unused. … Why don’t you better use your resources and rebuild or update (Jordan Acres),” one respondent wrote.

At-large board member Joy Prescott also addressed this possibility at Wednesday’s meeting, saying the board should discuss potential plans for the Jordan Acres property.

Board member Sarah Singer, however, was skeptical about assigning too much weight to the survey’s findings.

Singer, who said she is a “survey purist,” believes the results will be hard to interpret because participants were not asked to rate their responses to the four questions asked on a one-to-four scale.

“It’s hard to know looking at the numbers if parents answered they wanted the second grade to stay (at HBS), but would be OK moving it if needed,” she said.

Within the survey, a number of respondents wrote that they found the survey “hard to follow,” and wanted more context for what each choice meant.

“Chances are that people who have strong opinions will fill it out, but the rest of the community needs more context,” one participant said.

Perzanoski assured the board that “we will keep coming back to this.”

The School Board will hold a budget workshop April 15 at 6:30 p.m.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.