LEWISTON — Lewiston's school superintendent met with parents Tuesday night to hear their reactions to a plan to relocate up to 234 elementary school students next fall.
Redistricting is proposed because of growing enrollment and a goal of spreading out the city's population of poorer students and English language learners.
Parents weren't happy with the idea.
Several suggested nixing parts of the plan that would affect Farwell Elementary. Redistricting 10 or fewer Farwell students to Montello, and one Montello student to Farwell, doesn't make sense, considering the small number of students, parents Jamie Watson and Kenneth Patrie said.
Others objected to the overall plan, which one called “reverse discrimination,” moving downtown, poorer and ELL students to schools in the suburbs.
Ideally, students learning English should make up between 20 and 25 percent of a school's student population, and the number of children receiving free or reduced-cost lunches should not be extreme, Webster said.
Some schools have high rates of both. At Montello Elementary, 37 percent are in ELL classes and 75 percent qualify for free or reduced-cost meals.
All students would do well when they come from schools that reflect the city's diversity, and test scores that demonstrate how students are progressing show Lewiston schools are doing well, Webster said.
One woman asked why change the situation if it is working?
Webster said the middle and high schools, which students from the entire city attend, would do better if elementary schools held more even numbers of poorer and ELL students.
Farwell Elementary parent Christopher Raymond wasn't convinced.
“What I'm hearing is, 'Sit next to a white student; that's how ELL students will learn better.' It's reverse discrimination,” Raymond said.
Webster said some white students learn from ELL students, and some former ELL students are going to Ivy League colleges.
He said he has to find 150 students to fill 10 new classrooms at McMahon Elementary in the fall. “Where are the 150 students going to come from to go to McMahon School?”
Raymond said, “I find it hard to believe that to fill those seats, you need to redistrict the entire city."
McMahon PTO President Jodi Wolverton said the redistricting plan sounded like a socio-economic experiment.
"The areas you're pulling (students) from, they have the most transient, the neediest in terms of services," Wolverton said. If nearly 100 students from that part of town were sent to McMahon, “that is going to change that school immensely,” she said. McMahon's new classrooms could be filled without pulling from the downtown area, Wolverton said.
Webster disagreed that it was an experiment, and as proposed, McMahon's student population would mirror Geiger and Montello's.
Longley Elementary Principal Linda St. Andre said exposing all children to diversity gives all an opportunity to grow.
“At Longley, we have some classrooms where we have no students who are not ELL," she said. "Those kids need peer role models.” Studies show it's important to expose all children to others from different cultures. “We have a unique opportunity to do all of our children a favor.”
Longley has the highest number of poor and ELL students, but would not be affected by immediate redistricting plans. The plan for Longley is to improve student performance through more resources, Webster said.
School Committee member Sonia Taylor told parents that redistricting planning began because of the city's growing enrollment and school crowding. The plan is now about moving students from schools that perform less well to schools that perform better, “to try to even it out,” she said, adding that she "has a problem" with that.
“It's about socio-economics,” Taylor said. “If it wasn't, we wouldn't be shifting kids from the downtown area to McMahon. We wouldn't be taking Geiger kids and sending them to Montello.”