Citizens tell Auburn School Committee: 'EL has to be fixed'

AUBURN — Some citizens at a public hearing Wednesday night blasted an idea to close neighborhood schools and build one campus for the city's 3,600 students.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Superintendent Katy Grondin, right, listens to Michael McCormick of McCormick Facilities Management of Dexter on Wednesday as he outlined proposed plans for updating or building new schools in Auburn.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Resident Linda Sherwood addresses the Auburn School Committee on Wednesday night with a few ideas that her son, Yoel, would like to see implemented in the Auburn School District. He would like a school or building dedicated to teaching binary code and how to build applications for smart phones and tablets.

Others said they liked the idea and encouraged the Auburn School Department to develop that proposal.

The consensus for the future of the city's school buildings was that something must be done very soon to make Edward Little High School a place of which the community can be proud.

“EL has to be fixed,” said mother-of-three Judith Prentice. “I will not send my kids to a run-down, unaccredited high school. It won't happen. My husband and I have had several conversations about putting the house up for sale and moving.”

Prentice and others commented on two school consolidation building plans presented by an Auburn Master Facilities Committee on Wednesday night.

One plan calls for closing East Auburn Community School and Washburn Elementary; turning Walton Elementary into space for alternative programs, adult education, special education and administrative offices; renovating Edward Little; expanding Auburn Middle School; and building a new prekindergarten school somewhere in the city.

The second plan is to build a huge campus, resembling a university campus, to house pre-K through grade 12 students at one site. That plan would mean finding a large location, building new buildings over the next 15 years and closing most of the existing school buildings.

Retired educator Alfreda Fournier was vehemently opposed to the one-large-campus concept. It was introduced in Auburn years ago “and I voted against it at that time,” Fournier said. She called it a costly plan that would weigh heavily on taxpayers.

The paramount focus must be on Edward Little, which should be “Auburn's showcase and gathering point for our community,” Fournier said.

Fournier said she was frustrated that after so many years the school has not received state funding to be renovated or rebuilt. In the past four decades she's seen the closing of many neighborhood schools: Great Falls, Chamberlain, Franklin, Stevens Mills, Merrill Hill, C.P. Wight, Lake Street and Webster. The East Auburn Community School should not join that list, she said. “I have watched my grandson blossom and flourish in this old, small school with a shared cafeteria/gym,” Fournier said.

Tizz Crowley, recently elected to the Auburn City Council, called the state of Edward Little a crisis. "Delay there is not an option,” she said. An action plan is needed for the high school, she said.

Crowley spoke in favor of a campus setting for all Auburn students, and pointed out that most students don't walk to school.

“Neighborhood schools do not go away with a comprehensive campus,” Crowley said. “There's nothing in the comprehensive campus plan that says we can't maintain small buildings (with personalized, individualized teaching)."

Tracey Levesque, recently elected to the Auburn School Committee, also favored the campus idea. Traffic at Fairview Elementary School and Auburn Middle School is dangerous, she said.

Sue Martin said one campus was not the direction to go. She expressed concern that discussion about closing schools and creating an all-in-one campus “is going to get us off base on what the most pressing issue is."

That would be Edward Little, whose accreditation is at risk due to the poor conditions of the high school. The school, built in 1961, has inadequate electrical and heating systems. It lacks room for today's educational needs, and has no auditorium. Its kitchen and cafeteria are too small and are in the basement, originally intended for storage. The school lacks science labs, is poorly insulated, and is either too hot or too cold.

Convincing Auburn taxpayers to pay for a new or improved high school “with 100 percent local money, that in itself is an overwhelming task,” Martin said. Debate about creating a campus and closing down schools could “create a backlash from the taxpaying community, in that we're not talking about the most immediate need.”

Consultant Michael McCormick opened the public hearing by saying the Auburn School Department has 11 buildings valued at $105 million, but those buildings need $56 million worth of improvements. Taxpayers have been spending about $1.3 million a year for upkeep, but that hasn't kept pace, he said.

The Auburn Master Facilities Committee will discuss feedback from Wednesday's public hearing when it meets at 4 p.m. Thursday. Members will give their final recommendations to the School Committee on Dec. 7.

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I went to EL and graduated in 84. That was a great school. It was clean and well suited. Of course there was the time when three students broke in and set fire to three of the science labs while high on cocaine. Anyway, I lived in texas and tey have a school its an ISD school which is K-12 It works. It may be a small town, but it saves on bussing the students, and helps because you can keep track of your kids and they can also grow with the teachers that has been there since they started. My daughter went to kindergarten in texas and before she even reached 1st grade was already doing 5th grade lessons. Why have schools all over the place like we have now? I'm a school bus driver for lewiston and it's a pain when you have three runs for three different schools. they all have to stagger starting times so that the kids can get to school on time. Then when one is late getting the kids on or off the bus then we are late picking up the next group of kids. Just a thought. I went to st pats for Kindergarten then I moved to poland where it was k-8 then I had to go to St Joe's now is trinity which is across the street from the old st joe's, then went to Walton then EL. I think it's just confusing. You have to leave your friends, or get used to new teachers and familiar territory. I think it upsets the kids learning having to go to different schools for different grades. Just my opinion.

Chris Blake's picture

Good points

It's good to hear the perspective of a bus driver, and I appreciate it. My thinking on that was not to get kids walking to school again (which worked fine in my days, we had crossing guards who knew us and watched out for us, not drivers), but to limit the number of buses and kids and traffic in one place by spreading it out. I can see how dealing with multiple locations can be just as confusing in it's own ways, but I'm still of the opinion that creating safe routes for more kids to walk, shorter bus runs, and less traffic at any one school, would be better in the long run.

As for changing schools, I agree it can be confusing but in my head I envisioned a 3 step progression K-3, 4-8, 9-12. Each school bigger than the last, and farther from home. I think most of the existing confusion comes from hanging on to old buildings. I still favor new buildings, but at the old sites, not all clustered together in 2-3 huge locations.

Ultimately in my head I see really young kids being much more intimidated and confused and likely to get lost in the shuffle at a huge school. Bigger schools are fine for older kids who have more independence.

Charlotte Morin's picture

RIGHT DIRECTION, not wrong direction!

"Education began to fall apart when we identified Special Needs groups, such as physical handicapped, mentally handicapped, etc. The fact that society does require inclusion of these students is an issue that creates havoc in a regular classroom."

OUCH! What a horrible statement - reading this is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

Mr. Chris Blake has it right, "The single best teacher for young kids are other young kids, of multiple ability levels. It teaches them differences are good, patience goes both ways, and everyone can learn in a robust class with a lot of different backgrounds and abilities, as long as those classes arent so large a teacher can't provide the needed guidance." Well-said and yes, ACCURATE.

Peter Blake's picture


Doesn't anyone read this paper? Those of us who comment feel that our opinion should weigh as much as those who attend meetings and howl against or for a project.
I believe that we need a large campus, yes most students in Auburn already are bused so that is no big deal... Keep EL for the moment, but look into options. I even proposed the other day that we buy and convert the Bates Mill #5 to a new EL and at least we would have space, but limited outside activity space. Busing is again an option.
WOuldn't it be nice to get rid of busing. Neighborhood schools would be nice but too expensive to maintain and we would still have to have buses to transport student athletes to other schools for activities.
Sue Martin, always seems to have an opinion about education as a former principal and educator, but it is those administrators who got us into this mess originally so I discount her opinion.
Fix EL, plan to move to a large campus and leave room to build a new EL on that site too. As a tax payer I want this option.

Education began to fall apart when we identified Special Needs groups, such as physical handicapped, mentally handicapped, etc. The fact that society does require inclusion of these students is an issue that creates havoc in a regular classroom. Many years ago, Lewiston had a great policy for special ed student with emotional problems. They had to work their way into the regular classroom slowly and with the help of teacher aids, etc. If they slipped, back they went until they could learn to modify their behavior appropriately.

Chris Blake is my son, and he and I often disagree on things as we do now. He has had no practical experience as an educator and should temper his comments with the lack of that knowledge. He speaks from a point of one who has never had a problem learning and I doubt that he ever had learning issues. He is a good person, but very intellectual and not a realist.

We cannot segrate students by needs or lack of needs. Know the law.


Busing ensures that students get to school safely. Some parents can't take there kids too school or live too far out. It's easier to transport larger groups of kids with less problems. imagine if all the kids either walked to school or there parents brought them or picked them up. longer waits at school, more traffic. Plus bus drivers are also people that see what your kids is doing everyday when you're not around and before they get to school. Get rid of busing and there will be lots of kids not going to school because there parents may not have a vehicle or means to get their child to school.

Chris Blake's picture

Busing is ok

I'm not opposed to busing when needed. I'm opposed to dozens of buses in one mass location and long trips and long waits for the riders at both ends. As someone who had to do it for years, I can say bus rides sucked. Standing around waiting in the cold for 15minutes, then riding all around picking up other kids for 35minutes, then sitting around the halls at school for another 35minutes because your bus has to drop you off early and go do another run, is no way to spend a morning.

Walking isn't any more dangerous than riding a bus, if the streets and sidewalks are well tended, there are crossing guards where needed, and our police keep an eye out for any dangerous individuals. I understand attitudes have changed a lot since I was a kid, but deep down my gut says things aren't that much more dangerous, people are just more afraid. People feel obligated to use buses or drive their kids because they keep building bigger schools farther from the neighborhoods people live in, that doesn't automatically mean they're safer.

Chris Blake's picture

You misunderstand me

Sorry dad, but you seem to misunderstand what I wrote. I was quoting the School Committee member in the above article who seemed to be suggesting separating kids. I know quite well they can't by law be separated that way, which is why I was requesting clarification.

As for the rest, I don't see what the fact that I'm not an educator has to do with the strength or weakness of my case, or in fact any of the personal comments you made. I'm speaking as a citizen of Auburn. I vote, I paid taxes for years and were I not disabled I still would be. I have just as much right to form an opinion as anyone else.It's more than a little disappointing you felt the need to even bring that up to bolster your opinions.

I don't have experience as an educator, but I have intimate experience as an end user of the Auburn Schools. I know what worked and didn't work for myself and the kids I went with. I know what the concerns of a lot of my friends with school age children are. This is a much wider issue than simply what the educators think is best (need I even mention there are a lot of educators opposed to the idea too?). Realistic tax burdens and how such a new facility would work day to day in our town are important, that's why I brought them up, but the main concern and the starting point for this entire discussion needs to be: What is best for the kids?

Chris Blake's picture

What does this mean?

"“There's nothing in the comprehensive campus plan that says we can't maintain small buildings (with personalized, individualized teaching)."

I was re-reading this sentence and trying to figure out what was meant. It can be taken several ways, but frankly I don't like most of the interpretations I can think of. Small schools become the home of Special Needs or Gifted and Talented Kids? How does that help them, and how does it not violate their rights to equal educational opportunity?

We're talking about young kids here. The single best teacher for young kids are other young kids, of multiple ability levels. It teaches them differences are good, patience goes both ways, and everyone can learn in a robust class with a lot of different backgrounds and abilities, as long as those classes arent so large a teacher can't provide the needed guidance.

Having 2-4 smaller schools where certain kids are sent based on their needs is not neighborhood schooling! It's more busing and logistics where almost no one will end up in a convenient situation as a parent student or even teacher.

I know these are the early stages of the discussions, but the vagueness and somewhat misguided ideas I'm hearing don't instill me with confidence. I really feel they need to prioritize and solve the biggest problem first, which is ELHS.

special needs. kids

Why can't special needs kids go to the same schools but have the special ed teachers and have separate classrooms? they would get the specialized help they need but would also be able to interact with other students. These special needs kids are like any other kids except with a disability to be able to communicate in a way the kids without disability would understand. Kids are kids. They like everyone. Unless we as parents tell our kids that this person is different and you should stay away or whatever. then kids will be kids and they will make friends. We teach our kids early about segregation without even realizing it. Granted there are many races somalians, african americans, asians etc,,, among the people of the community also going to our schools, it only takes one from each nationality to make us all look at them and judge them. We are all people with needs. Yes some take advantage of the system but so do americans whether you are white black, yellow, whatever. As you stated " the single best teacher for young kids as other young kids." Kids relate better to someone that is just like them. So one school for different grades shouldn't be so difficult. We need to teach these kids and let them grow. Kids react to a safe calm environment better than a hostile one. Why not let the kids decide? They are the ones that are going to school, we've been there.

Chris Blake's picture

With all fairness

With all fairness to Councilor Crowley, the fact that kids don't walk to school is a symptom of larger problems and attitudes, not an excuse to implement a big shiny expensive idea.

In truth using that to allay people's concerns has to be a joke, because one of the larger reasons kids don't walk is because they've spent the last few decades getting rid of smaller schools and building bigger ones farther away from home.

A better school for everyone is the goal. They're trying to sell us that bigger is better. They're trying to sell us that they can't manage several schools across the city. I don't see anything in the article that makes me believe they're really looking at the potential quality of life for the students and staff and neighbors and commuters who would need to accommodate to this megaschool wherever it ends up being.

Had I been well enough to attend the meeting I would have let them know my alternative idea. Don't close and sell or rehabilitate our remaining neighborhood schools. Come up with a 10 year plan to build new schools on the same sites on a rotating basis. We've had to make do with shuffling students to other schools and squeezing in for years. A few more years of that would be worth it if we got a new neighborhood school every few years. The land and locations are what matter, not how many gyms and cafeterias the school has. Buy a few adjoining lots and build a modern new Washburn if it really needs to be bigger. Then do the same with other schools.

Stop trying to sell us on the idea that all our 5-9 year olds can only be educated when we bus them off to a giant warehouse of a school building that will inevitably have to be built out on the edge of town and most likely near a major road.


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