AUBURN — A special education program housed at Lake Street School will be moved and downsized after administrators learned of costly repairs to the school building.

Following a 30 minute discussion about Superintendent Cornelia Brown’s proposed transition plan, the School Committee also voted to hand the school building over to the city on June 30.

The Regional Educational Treatment Center program at Lake Street School is a “special purpose day treatment school” that serves students with “a wide range of difficulties in the areas of emotional, behavioral, social and academic functioning,” according to its website. The program has operated as a regional program since at least 1980.

At the start of the year, RETC had 18 students: eight from Auburn, eight from Lewiston and two from Poland-based Regional School Unit 16.

However, beginning next year the program plans to serve Auburn students alone, dealing a blow to nearby districts at a time when administrators say getting students into specialized programs has become more difficult.

The School Committee voted Wednesday to vacate Lake Street School at the end of the school year and move the special education program housed there to the middle and high schools. Mayor Jason Levesque said the council will likely consider developing the building into market-rate housing. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file

Auburn administrators have argued that needed renovations are too costly for a building which serves less than two dozen students.


The high school RETC program will move to the new Edward Little High School, which will have its own space and entryway separate from the rest of the school. The space includes classrooms, a community area, a kitchen and offices for support staff.

The Success of Students program, which was previously housed in Lake Street School but was moved to the high school this year, will occupy the same space.

“I think this is a great idea,” said at-large representative Patricia Gautier. “The kids, they will be in their own space … but if they want to go to chorus or an art class, they’re right there in the building.”

A new program for middle school students will be built “from the ground up” at Auburn Middle School, according to Laura Shaw, director of special education.

Administrators plan to house this program in a new portable school building, which would include two classrooms and bathrooms. The district plans to purchase the unit for roughly $350,000 using federal COVID-19 relief funds.

While there is currently only one middle school student from Auburn enrolled in RETC, Shaw said there are more Auburn students who could benefit from the program.


“There are students at that middle level that, frankly, probably need more clinical support than maybe even some kids we have (at RETC),” Shaw said. “It’s just, they’re not there because it’s not an option right now.”

According to Brown and Business Manager Mark Conrad, the new Edward Little High School was designed specifically to include a space for the RETC and SOS programs. Brown clarified Friday that this space was originally planned to be used in addition to Lake Street School, not as a substitute.

RETC Director Lila Mitchell said that she and other staff learned of the proposed plan to vacate Lake Street School in early September.

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said it will be up to the City Council to decide the future of Lake Street School, however the council has recently been pursuing market rate housing projects, he said. The playground at the corner of Fern and Lake streets will not be developed because it is designated as conservation space.

“Whatever happens, it will blend in with the neighborhood,” he said.



Mitchell said demand for RETC was high and that there were more than 20 referrals requesting a spot at the end of September.

School administrators said persistent staffing problems contributed to the decision to alter the special education program.

“I believe the hope was that it could always take more students,” Brown said. “Unfortunately because of staffing, we’ve never been able to take more kids because we don’t have the staff to do it.”

Since she was hired by the district in 2020, the school has never been fully staffed, she said, adding that the turnover rate has been high.

According to Mitchell, who became director last year, the program had been improving and was one position away from being fully staffed at the start of the school year.

In September, the program had two classroom teachers, six behavioral health specialists and two clinicians. The program had a qualified candidate for the only vacant position, a classroom teacher, but the applicant ultimately declined after learning that the future of the program was in question, Mitchell said.


Proposed changes to the program have led some staff to leave this fall, Mitchell said. The program now has just one classroom teacher, one behavioral health specialist, one education technician and two clinicians.

“The staff here are truly dedicated to the most disenfranchised students who need so much and end up getting so little,” she said.

Due to the decline in staff numbers, some students have been returned to their sending schools.

Lewiston Superintendent Jake Langlais said the planned changes to RETC will have a significant impact on the region.

“Locally, programming like RETC is full or not accepting students,” he said. “We have a waiting list of students that would benefit from placements we cannot find or no longer exist. ”

RSU 16 Superintendent Kenneth Healey said they are working to find new placements for their students, but so far have been unsuccessful.


“It’s going to be a burden, but somehow, someway we always get it done,” he said, commending his special education staff for dealing with staffing shortages and greater competition for out-of-district placements.

Shaw acknowledged the challenges districts face with finding out-of-district placements and praised the Auburn school district for continuing to support an in-house program.

Special purpose private schools “are folding, they’re not profitable, some of them are closing and waiting lists are years long,” said Shaw. “So it does behoove us to have some high quality programs in the district that are at that day treatment level.”

Under the transition plan approved by the School Committee, the RETC director position, a classroom teaching position and an educational technician position will be cut.

All but the director’s position are currently vacant. Mitchell will be offered a teaching position in the district, but not an administrative position, as required by her union contract, according to Brown.

During the School Committee discussion, officials noted that the program had a surplus last year — about $200,000 according to Mitchell. But Conrad said the money was distributed to member districts and was not available for renovation costs.




The Auburn school district has already spent just over $45,000 on the Lake Street renovation project thus far, Conrad said, adding that those costs will now need to be absorbed by the operating budget.

However, the district would have faced far greater costs if it had chosen to move forward with renovating bathrooms, adding an elevator as originally intended and the unexpected concerns discovered by an architect.

He determined that the district would need to address water running through the foundation at the front of the school and add a second entrance to allow buses to loop around the property. In her recommendation, Brown noted that the necessary repairs would likely exceed the $1 million state grant by $450,000 to $600,000.

In response to a question about whether federal relief funds could be used to supplement renovation costs for Lake Street School, Conrad said, “They might; that’s not a question we’ve asked them.”

And after two years of soaring inflation, administrators say the cost for the original project is almost certainly higher than it was in 2021 when the grant application was submitted.

“It’s highly likely that the cost estimates would have come in significantly higher than (previous estimates), and we would have had to (bear) the total increase over budget,” said Conrad.

Shaw assured the School Committee that both the middle and high school programs for Auburn RETC students will be up and running by the start of the new school year in 2023.

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