Lewiston proposing alternative school at Dingley

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LEWISTON — To help soften expected blows to the budget, Lewiston high school students would no longer attend Auburn’s Franklin Alternative School and instead attend a new alternative program at Lewiston’s Dingley Building, Superintendent Bill Webster proposed Monday night.

The Dingley Building now holds administrative staffers and a small “Dingley School” program that teaches students who have been expelled. The idea of the Dingley School is to help expelled students keep up with their studies.

Webster told Lewiston School Committee members that 20 Lewiston High students now attend Auburn’s Franklin School at an annual cost of $144,000. If more slots were available, “we could easily more than double our placement spots,” Webster said.

Auburn is raising the costs of attending Franklin School by 15 percent, Webster said. Creating an in-house program would help more students at a lower cost, he said.

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He proposed spending $89,000 to renovate the lower floor of the Dingley Building to turn it into a small alternative school to house 40 students. Also, a room on the main floor would be used for alternative students.

Expelled students in the Dingley School would continue to go to school in the building, but in a renovated conference room on the main floor.

Initially, Webster said he wanted to create an alternative program for high school students in a separate building, “but the money is just not there to do that. (Assistant Superintendent) Tom Jarvis and I walked around this building saying, ‘What could we do with better use of space?’”

They concluded the program would work for $89,000 worth of renovation. “In these times, we have to figure out how to make better use of our own facilities,” Webster said. Jarvis would have day-to-day oversight of the program, which would be part of Lewiston High.

The alternative program for middle school students would remain at the armory, Webster said.

Committee member Paul St. Pierre said he didn’t like the idea of turning the administrative building into a school, calling it short-sighted.

“The first thing that comes to mind is security. We have no lock-down facilities here, no way of isolating the student population from the general building,” St. Pierre said.

Saying the “brain trust” of the district works in the Dingley Building, St. Pierre said it could be too disruptive for people “that we pay some hefty salaries.” They need an environment “where they can function the way they’re supposed to.”

And, he added, as it is, there’s little room to hold meetings. “Everything is booked. To whittle away all the available space it would take to turn this into a school is really going to cripple our ability to function.”

Webster said those were valid concerns, but that provisions, such as doors with alarms and staffing outside the contained classrooms, would be made to keep everyone safe. In Lisbon, 21 alternative students are headquartered in the central office, Webster said.

The coming budget will be very difficult, he said. “One of the first things members of the public are going to say is cut administration, cut central office.” Locating a needed program in the administrative building would make good use out of space, he said. “I don’t see a better option.”

Committee member Linda Scott asked how many new positions would be needed to run the program. Webster said five.

Committee members decided not to take any action on the proposal, and to revisit the idea next month during budget talks.

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