SAD 61 drops Grade 5 move to ease overcrowding

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Fifth grades will remain in elementary schools this fall.

SAD 61 abandoned the idea of moving all fifth graders to Lake Region Middle School as a way to ease overcrowding at Songo Locks School.

Last week at a special meeting held in the Great Room at Lake Region Vocational Center, the school board gave thumbs down to the proposal, as well as revisiting redistricting and keeping the “status quo.”

So, Superintendent of Schools Alan Smith will now turn his attention to gathering figures on what it would cost to either place a portable at Songo Locks or build additions onto the Naples elementary school or possibly Crooked River School. Or, even construct a new elementary school?

“What was encouraging was the turnout of parents we had for our meetings regarding this subject (moving the fifth grade),” Smith said, “as well as not keeping the status quo.”

After introducing the fifth grade plan, school officials held three community forums. Options discussed included: status quo, build onto current facilities, repurpose facilities, redistricting, moving all grade 5s to the middle school and placing a portable unit at Songo Locks School.

When School Board chairman Janice Barter asked directors to narrow the option list, the three aforementioned possibilities were cut.

Which option would be the best solution?

  • Superintendent Smith estimated that an addition to house 20 classrooms would cost about $7 million. The figure, however, would not include land acquisition (if needed), water, etc. SAD 61 would likely need to purchase additional land adjacent to the property for construction purposes, while Crooked River likely has enough land available to accommodate an addition.

The catch is SAD 61 taxpayers would likely foot the entire bill through bonding.

The bond for Songo Locks is paid off in 2015-16.

  • A portable at Songo Locks could be installed in a short period of time; and would cost about $110,000 for a four-classroom structure with a propane heating system (no restroom); or $120,000, including a bathroom.

One concern is whether the current school septic system, which is 20 years old and is taking on 3,000 gallons of water a day, can continue to handle such a flow — which officials say it was not designed for that amount.

The district could pay a month rental fee ($2,500) for the portable.

  • People attending the community forums pointed to repurposing Crooked River to house grades 4 and 5 as the answer to ease overcrowding at Songo Locks. School officials view this option as a “short-term fix” and a long-range plan needs to be developed.

While returning the facility to elementary instruction is straightforward (it could require some “updating” to meet current codes), school officials would need to figure out where to place Special Services, Adult and Community Education programs and the Alternative Education (high school students) program.

One option is to move Special Services to the LR Middle School lower level.

Two, adult education programs could either be held at the high school or possibly in the “brick end” of Bridgton Memorial School.

Three, the Alternative Ed program could be housed in the “White House” portable unit, which the district looked to sell once the high school renovation was complete, but found no takers. The unit could be moved from its current spot to another location on the high school grounds.

  • Even if two classes were removed from Songo Locks, school officials pointed out that vehicle traffic and parking concerns there must be addressed — at some point.

To add another entrance and add 30 parking spaces, the cost would be about $224,000. If the district adds move parking spaces to the lower and upper parking lots, the costs would be $100,000 and $61,000 respectively. Total cost for the project, which includes DEP review and approval, would be about $724,000.

The project could be addressed in three phases.

Superintendent Smith will be meeting with an engineer to look over the options and develop clearer numbers. With the school board starting the budget formation process this week, Smith hopes to present directors with enough information so a direction can be decided upon and funded in the upcoming budget.

Upcoming budget workshops include: Monday, Feb. 9 at 6 p.m. in the culinary arts room at Lake Region Vocational Center (administrative presentations); Wednesday, Feb. 11 at 6 p.m., LRVC culinary arts room (administrative presentations).

Meeting notes

From the Jan. 5 meeting notes:

  • The Student Support Center at Lake Region Middle School worked with 61 students, of which 27 improved to “grade level” on the Scantron post assessment.

Average gains in math were: 233 points in geometry; 327 points in data analysis and probability; 123 points in number and operations; 288 points in algebra; and 293 points in measurement.

Average gains in reading were: 223 points in long passages; 284 points in fiction comprehension; 115 points in vocabulary development; and 228 points in nonfiction comprehension.

Officials say areas of weakness include: calculating, identification and classification of shapes, intersecting and perpendicular lines, finding measures of central tendency, order of operations, writing equations using variables from a word problem, and interpreting bar and pictographs accurately.

  • Eight Lake Region H.S. staff members visited Bucksport H.S. in December to learn more about the Building Assets, Reducing Risks (BARR) program and how it increased the level of student motivation and overall graduation rates.

LRHS Principal Ted Finn said the program will be implemented next year for grade 9 to help improve student transition from middle to high school. A grant is being sought to fund this program.

  • SkillsUSA collected 30 boxes of food and $315 cash during its “Pack the Pickup” effort. The food and money was donated to Community CrossWalk in Naples.
  • The Opportunity Alliance donated $750 to the district under its Public Health School Mini-Grant program. The funds will be used to develop a staff wellness program.
  • A $400 ecomaine School Recycling Grant will be used to purchase compost bins and materials.
  • Liam Opie, an eighth grader at Lake Region Middle School and two-time Geo Bee winner, spoke out against Common Core state initiatives.

Later in the evening, it was reported that middle school teachers are currently reporting on 12 Common Core standards. Students must show mastery of a standard before moving to the next one.

An honor roll student speaking on behalf of 54 other students, Opie claimed too much time is spent on each standard thus inhibiting the learning process.

He also believes the standards-based grading system is “very confusing” and suggested that the school board reinstate the number-based grading system.


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