LEWISTON — The topic of redistricting students, which was controversial in 2012 and 2013, is back.

Superintendent Bill Webster will present the School Committee on Monday night with plans to hire an architect to build a school and establish a new redistricting committee.

Redistricting is resurfacing because Lewiston has been approved for state construction money to build a school to replace Martel Elementary on Lisbon Street. The building is old and overcrowded.

The original part was built in 1925, with additions in the 1950s. There are no music, art or conference rooms, and there’s no space for a pre-kindergarten program. The cafeteria doubles as a gym. 

Lewiston’s student population is growing and Martel’s classrooms are large. The school’s population in the spring was 345, up from 240 students eight years ago.

In 2012, another redistricting committee and Webster recommended moving 223 elementary students from Montello to Geiger and McMahon schools.

The goal was to fill new class space at McMahon and better balance the city’s number of English Language Learner students at Montello. Montello had a higher percentage of ELL students — then 37 percent — compared to the city’s average of 23 percent.

Supporters said when the right balance of ELL students were mainstreamed, they’d learn English faster, while traditional students would learn a new culture. Redistricting would also help all students better prepare for middle and high school by exposing them earlier to the same demographics they’ll face in the seventh grade.

In 2012 and 2013, parents opposed said that redistricting wasn’t necessary and didn’t diversify enough. They were concerned that low-performing students wouldn’t get enough support, which could take away from McMahon and Geiger students.

The School Committee voted down redistricting in February 2013, but said redistricting would be revisited, with community input, when the next elementary school was built.

And that is about to happen.

The new elementary school will be larger than Martel and will take students from other schools to relieve overcrowding. Lewiston will have to figure out which students go where, including Longley Elementary students, who are the lowest-performing in the city.

One idea considered is making Longley and Farwell schools for pre-kindergarten, first and second grade, and have one school for grades three to six students from Farwell, Longley and Martel.

“There may be other options, including some we may not have thought of,” Webster said. “We need to decide what grade level will be in the new school.”

Discussion of Longley will be part of the new school construction, Webster said, because while Martel was No. 8 on the state’s school construction list. Longley was No. 20.

On Monday night, Webster said he’ll propose establish a redistricting committee of 19 people, including parents from all six elementary schools.

He said he hopes the committee will complete its work and give its recommendations this winter.

“We’ve just learned from the state we are in the funding cycle for the fall of 2017,” Webster said. For Lewiston to use that money, the new school plans would have to be its plans done six months before, or the spring of 2017.

That could mean the new school opens in the fall of 2018, Webster said.

The School Committee will meet at the downtown Dingley Building at 6:45 p.m.


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