2016-04-22 / Community News

Plan to keep, invest in three primary schools

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

This time last year, it looked like one of the school district’s three primary schools was going to be shuttered to save costs and better utilize school buildings, but after an in-depth longterm facilities review led by Harriman, an engineering and architecture firm in Portland, that idea has been scrapped, at least for now.

As part of the long-term facilities review, school staff looked at more than a handful of scenarios that ranged from expanding and consolidating primary schools to building a centralized primary school to changing which grade levels are included in which buildings.

During this review and with new enrollment figures in hand, Superintendent George Entwistle said school leaders changed course and opted to not change how the facilities operate.

“We went into it with the thought we would have declining enrollment and could find some cost savings in consolidating three K-2 schools into two. We did defer a few things. We didn’t do some boiler work, security stuff,” said Scarborough Schools Business Manager Kate Bolton.

Bolton said the capital facilities improvement approved for this school year was “relatively small” because of the ongoing facilities review and a big item, the laptop program at the high school, was included.

Entwistle said now is the time to play catch-up with some of the infrastructure maintenance work that needs to be done at Blue Point, Eight Corners and Pleasant Hill schools.

“We cannot really delay in investing in any of our smaller elementary schools. The likelihood, in my opinion, of taking one of those schools off line in the next few years, would not make good sense,” Entwistle said.

To that end, Entwistle is proposing a number of school facilities capital projects at the primary schools in the fiscal year 2017 capital improvement budget, which is under review by the board of education and town council now. The improvements include repair to the siding and trim, carpet replacement, heating/cooling and ventilation improvements and roof restoration work at Blue Point Primary School.

The capital improvement plan also includes a technology refresh for the schools, funding for three new buses, as well as a number of projects at the middle and high school. Bolton said because of the age of Wentworth School, which opened in 2014, there shouldn’t be a need for large infrastructure work to the building envelope, roofing, flooring or heating/cooling system for a while, although there may be smaller capital improvements requested for the school in future years.

Finance Committee Chairman Shawn Babine said long-term facilities planning and what might, eventually, become of the primary schools should not prevent proper maintenance today.

“I hope we wouldn’t be deterred from taking care of what we have now because we may, or may not change the model we have in the future,” Babine said.

The proposed $45.8 million school budget – a 5.3 percent increase over the 2015-2016 school year budget – includes $590,000 in educational improvements for the district’s six schools, special services, athletics and activities and central office.

The bulk of the improvements, which Entwistle said his leadership team pared down from $1.2 million, would happen at the high school, where school leaders want to update and refresh the curriculum, class schedule and access to guidance services.

The improvement plan at the high school would include hiring the equivalent of five full-time teachers with extra staffing in the English, French, Latin, math, science, social studies and guidance departments.

Board of Education Chairman Donna Beeley said the extra staff and curriculum review is needed because the high school cannot offer certain classes students are asking for because it lacks adequate staffing and resources.

The staff at the high school, Entwistle said, is “maxed out”.

“I do believe this will advance education and I do believe it is another great big step in addressing the needs at the high school that are most significant,” Entwistle said.

The educational improvement plan would also include continuing to implement the new English Language Arts program, provide better support for students with behavioral challenges and advance classroom technology integration at the primary schools; advance science and technology instruction at Wentworth School; create an academic support coach position and enhance study skills instruction at Scarborough Middle School, as well as increasing teacher professional learning time, continuing implementation of the K-5 English Language Arts curriculum and modernization of health services case management across the district.

The improvement plan, Entwistle points out, is approximately 1.3 percent of the overall proposed budget, which as it stands now when coupled with the municipal budget would increase the tax rate 3.27 percent.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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