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Brunswick School Board grapples with redistricting in transition to new school

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Brunswick School Board grapples with redistricting in transition to new school

BRUNSWICK — As work crews continue to prepare the McKeen Street site for the town's new $28 million elementary school, School Department officials are mulling significant redistricting plans.

One of those proposals would send every student to each elementary school, a move that proponents say would resolve equality issues, but one that opponents fear will mean the end of Brunswick's neighborhood schools. 

That proposal generated the most discussion among School Board members Wednesday. It was presented by Superintendent Paul Perzanoski as three redistricting options to help the School Department transition to the new school, which is scheduled to open in 2011, and the closure of Longfellow School in June 2010.

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

The one-student/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. Among the possible benefits, Perzanoski said, is that Jordan Acres' open-campus concept would possibly accommodate pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students without incurring as much renovation cost – a steadily approaching necessity at the 1970s-era school.

Perzanoski said it would also allow teachers to better focus on early literacy instruction and reduce current claims by parents that students assigned to some schools don't receive the same level of education and programming as others. 

"You can't hear cries of inequity if all students go to the all the same schools," board member Michelle Small said. "We'd have that problem licked."

But some board members weren't so convinced.

Michele Joyce said the proposal is a "backward step," arguing that it would end neighborhood schools, increase transportation costs and end the benefits of the Safe Routes walking program. Joyce also said kindergarten students would lose the interaction with older students that currently exists in the district's K-2 configuration. 

Perzanoski acknowledged that the plan would also add another transition for students. But some board members felt the transition would be reduced because the students would follow their friends to each school.

The other two 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.

The board instructed Perzanoski to study all three options and their projected costs. He is expected to report back to the board either in November or early December.

Board member James Grant said that regardless of the direction, the School Department should make a concerted effort to involve the public in the decision. Board member Janet Connors agreed, adding that the topic had the potential to be "extremely political."

Chairwoman Eileen Murphy said the decision will likely be the most important one the School Board makes in the next year.

The board will also have to decide if it wants to hire a principal for the new school a year before it opens to coordinate the transition. The one-year position, which Perzanoski said would pay roughly the same salary as current principals in the district, could be proposed in next year's budget. The position would add another administrator's salary for just one year because of the 2010 closure of Longfellow. 

Still, board members agreed that the position could be a hot topic during budget discussions. 

"We have to be prepared to justify that position," Connors said.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net