LEWISTON — The School Department will begin assembling a new 22-member redistricting committee in anticipation of a new, larger school to replace Martel Elementary, the School Committee decided Monday night.

The state has told Superintendent Bill Webster that the city is in the 2017 funding cycle to replace the 1925 school building on Lisbon Street.

“That is an aggressive schedule,” Webster said. “I’m proposing we establish a new redistricting committee. We’re going to have to decide grade configuration on that new school, where the students will come from, before we can begin site selection.”

If the redistricting committee can give its recommendations in January, “we could meet that aggressive schedule,” he said.

The new school will be larger than Martel, which has about 345 students; students from other schools, therefore, will be moved.

Webster told the committee it was highly unlikely that students from Montello, McMahon and Geiger would be moved because each already has 700 students. Most likely, students from Farwell, Longley and Martel would be impacted, he said, but other students could be moved as well.

City Council representative Donald D’Auteuil said he wanted the committee to have equal representation of parents from every elementary school, instead of two parents from Martel, Farwell and Longley, and one from each of the other three schools.

Committee member Linda Scott agreed.

“We do need to have equal representation by all the schools” to avoid controversy that happened in 2012 when an attempt was made to move students, she said.

In 2012 and 2013, parents were concerned there was not equal representation of all the schools.

“Whether this is the same thing or not, it has the word ‘redistricting’ in it,” she said. “Parents are going to be concerned and want input.”

Considering the number of families that move around, it will ultimately impact many in the community, she said.

The School Committee voted to have two parents from each of the six elementary schools serve on the redistricting committee.

School Committee member Paul St. Pierre said he wanted to ensure parents who serve communicate fully so all parents know what’s happening. Good communication is crucial to the success, he said.

Webster said he’d look to each school’s PTO and principals to recommend parents who could serve.

Committee member Tom Shannon said the next five months will be busy.

“We need to move,” he said. “We can’t wait four weeks to establish this committee. If you’re setting a deadline of January for having this information prepared and ready for this board to act on, we cannot stand still and let somebody else get this done, or we’re not going to meet the deadlines of the state and lose this window of opportunity.”

Shannon recommended that the redistricting committee not only include an equal number of parents from every elementary school community, but that committee officials not take the place of parents. He echoed others who said they want to avoid what happened in 2012 and 2013, when a number of parents said they didn’t know redistricting was being proposed.

“We need to perform better as a board and get the message out to people that these meetings are important and their input is important,” Shannon said.

School officials attempted to move Montello students to Geiger and McMahon school in 2012 and 2013 to better balance the number of English Language Learners at Montello Elementary School.

That was met with unhappy McMahon and Geiger parents, who said they were concerned that high-need, low-performing students could take away learning opportunities from their children.

The School Committee voted against redistricting in 2013 but said redistricting would be revised when the new school is built.

If the existing timetable is met, the new school could open in 2018.

LEWISTON — In an emotional request that was rejected, Auburn parent Megan Parks asked the Lewiston School Committee to allow her special-needs son to attend Geiger this fall.

Parks was told the decision rested with Superintendent Bill Webster, not the committee. And Webster said there was no room at Geiger.

Parks explained her son went to Geiger last year.

“We’ve worked extremely hard to get him where he is,” she said. “At the beginning of the year, my son would hide under his bed and cry. We’d get him to school and he’d hide in a corner. If other children talked to him, he would hiss and growl at them.”

Intense work improved his behavior, she said. Moving to a different school would set him back severely, Parks said. He has an inability to adjust to any kind of change.

“It’s detrimental to him, not just academically but his entire well-being,” she said. 

After moving from Lewiston to Auburn, she applied for out-of-district placement in Lewiston and was denied by Webster.

Parks appealed to the Maine Commissioner of Education, who ruled her son could attend school in Lewiston, but the commissioner could not dictate which school.

Webster told committee members Monday night said he understood Parks was advocating for her son, but he turned her down at Geiger because the school was overcrowded. He told her the student could attend McMahon, Montello or Longley.

“I’m holding firm of not adding more students to Geiger,” Webster said. “Many classrooms have 28 students.”

More students who live in the area will likely show up and register between now and when school begins. He has also turned down nine other families who live in Lewiston and asked to go to Geiger, Webster said.

The only way for her son to go to Geiger is for the family to live in that neighborhood, he said.

Parks told the Sun Journal her family last year lived in that neighborhood, renting a house they planned to buy, but there were problems with the property which prompted them to move to Auburn. — Bonnie Washuk

Lewiston will “sell” signs on sports fields

LEWISTON — For the first time this year, businesses will be able to “buy” signs, or advertise their products or companies on Lewiston High School’s sports fields.

The Lewiston School Committee voted Monday night to authorize Athletic Director Jason Fuller to sell signs that will hang on the fields.

The change in policy could bring in thousands of dollars each year, helping pay for sports and the growing Franklin Pasture complex.

Business people in the community like to support Lewiston teams, Fuller said.

“One of the things they always ask is if they have the ability to put signage on the fencing around the fields,” Fuller said. “Last year, we had to turn away $3,000 because we did not have permission to do that. Meanwhile this year, I know we have at least two businesses who have agreed to do it, and possibly as many as 10 saying if you OK it, we’re willing to put signage up.”

Fuller’s proposal, which was approved, has three levels of signs: press box, upper level and a lower level.

The press box is the most visible during games, followed by the upper levels near the bleachers and finally the lower level around the fence. The press box signs would sell for $1,500 for one year or $2,500 for three years; the upper level, $1,000 for one year, or $1,500 for three years; and the lower level, $750 for one year, or $1,250 for three years.

“This has been highly successful in a lot of communities,” with some raising $40,000 to $50,000 a year,” Fuller said. “We’re asking to give businesses the opportunity to put signs on the fence. They design the signs and specifications.”

Any of the signs will have to comply with school board policy, which prohibits messages promoting tobacco and alcohol products, Fuller said.

“This is a great avenue for us, not just for this year,” Fuller said. “This project that can be long term.”

City Councilor Representative Donald D’Auteuil asked how high the potential might be.

Fuller didn’t give an amount, but said “it’s pretty significant.” Considering the different fields, “realistically, we could sell 100 to 200 signs on the complex. We could make a lot of money for the project.”

The committee also approved a new athletic and extracurricular eligibility policy.

The new policy says in order to play sports or participate in any extracurricular activity, students must be on track to graduate and achieve the necessary 24 credits.

The old policy said freshmen had to have five credits their freshmen year. For a handful of students who “bombed” their freshman year, they could never catch up “in the structure of the school day or in summer school,” Fuller told committee members earlier this summer.

The new policy changed the number to four credits after the freshmen year.


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