LEWISTON — “Build big” is the recommendation for the new elementary school to replace the aging Martel Elementary School.

The Lewiston Redistricting Committee on Monday night voted 11-4 in favor of “Option C,” which would be an elementary school of about 950 students, among the largest in Maine.

If approved by voters, the school would combine Longley and Martel and relieve overcrowding at the other four elementary schools.

Key to the larger school is that it would provide space for more classrooms to create classes with fewer students citywide, Superintendent Bill Webster said.

And the state would pay for 95 percent of the cost — solving building needs of two existing schools, Martel and Longley — instead of asking taxpayers to pay for Longley improvements.

Voting for the larger, “Option C” school, Webster said, were Kristie Clark, Steve Whitfield, Marnie Morneault, Stacey Laflamme, Megan Parks, Elizabeth Eames, Dawn Hartill, John Butler, Bruce Damon, Linda Scott and Tom Shannon.

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Voting for “Option F,” which would build a smaller, 600-student school for Martel students but leave Longley as a separate school, were Jen Hazard, Sean Andrews, Jodi Wolverton and Janet Beaudoin.

Wolverton, a McMahon parent, said she voted for Option F for several reasons.

“There are pros and cons to both options,” she said. “Neither are perfect. My vote was based on the public input, the straw polls at all the meetings that supported Option F.” It’s important, she said, “that we listen to all the parents, even Longley.”

Wolverton said that during the months of redistricting meetings, no research was presented “that shows a large school is educationally sound, particularly with the demographics in Lewiston.”

Committee member Elizabeth Eames, a Bates College professor, said she voted for the large school because it would help the largest number of students and would be the most fiscally responsible.

“I don’t see how we can ask Lewiston taxpayers to pay for Longley renovations. They’re tapped out. That would be tantamount to saying, ‘Nothing for you.'”

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A large school would provide enough classrooms to create smaller class size across the city, she said.

And it would reduce “de facto segregation” at Longley.

English language learner students, who are mostly children of immigrant Somali families, make up 57.8 percent of Longley students, compared to 8.1 percent at Martel Elementary School.

Twenty-five percent of all Lewiston students are ELL; 72.6 of Lewiston students are from families whose income qualifies students for free or reduced school lunches.

Demographics of the proposed larger elementary school would be 31.2 percent ELL students and 82.8 percent free- or reduced-lunch students.

When it comes to concerns about demographics, there’s a high number of free- and reduced-lunch students across Lewiston. Using that as a reason not to create a larger school “is a moot point,” Eames said. “That leaves race.”

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She recently watched the movie “Selma” about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement 50 years ago.

“It’s important to integrate,” Eames said. Leaving Longley as is would be “de facto segregation. It’s unconscionable.”

Linda Scott, a member of the Lewiston School Committee, said she voted for the large school because it would be the best for the city and would give Longley students the same program opportunities as other students.

The state will pay for 95 percent of the new school Lewiston builds, regardless of whether it’s a 600- or 950-student school.

If Longley is not included, it would mean taxpayers would face a cost of between $7.2 million to $11 million to improve Longley, Scott said.

“It’s the best thing for taxpayers,” she said.

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The fiscal climate in the city and the state would likely result in no improvements to Longley, she said.

The Redistricting Committee will formally make its recommendation to the Lewiston School Committee on Feb. 2, which is scheduled to vote on the new school size.

Meanwhile, another committee will be formed to study where to build the school, which ideally would be in the Martel or Longley school neighborhoods.

The site would have to be large — between 15 to 25 acres, Webster said.

The final decision will be up to voters in a referendum that could come late 2015 or early 2016.


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