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Lewiston decides not to pursue charter school

LEWISTON — Citing worries about lack of control, the Lewiston School Committee voted unanimously Monday night to reject considering a public charter school as a way to get an alternative school.

The board will eventually explore using Longley Elementary School for alternative classes, but it won’t be a charter school.

The committee gave a green light for the district to create a committee charged with developing plans to turn Longley into an alternative school after the new elementary school opens in 2019 and is filled by students from Martel and Longley, leaving those two school buildings empty.

State law allows up to 10 state-funded charter schools in Maine. Nine have been approved.

State law allows school boards to authorize charter schools, although so far all nine have been approved by the Maine Charter School Commission.

Two advantages of an alternative charter school are that an outside group could come up with new ideas to help students and the costs for developing the school would not be the responsibility of the School Department, Webster said.

But it was the disadvantages, especially the lack of control, that stopped the committee from going the charter school route. A charter school would be independent of the School Department.

“There’s no say by this board over day-to-day operations,” Webster said, “no say in policy. No say in terms of where the school would be located, although we could make it advantageous they would go to Longley.”

School Committee member Matthew Roy quickly made a motion not to explore a charter school, seconded by Ben Martin.

Martin said he found a recent workshop about a charter school interesting, “but I don’t think a district-sponsored charter school is the best option.”

The workshop was held to figure out in part what to do with the Longley school building once it’s empty. Committee members were told they would not be able to say where the charter school would be built, that the charter school would not have to use the Longley building.

“That’s all I needed to hear,” Martin said. “If we can’t make them use Longley, the whole discussion is moot.” And, he said, a locally approved charter school would mean the School Committee would have “no control over it.”

Linda Scott and Tom Shannon agreed.

“We’re elected to control the budget. This gives away that responsibility,” Shannon said. The charter schools are run on taxes, “but they wouldn’t have the public oversight,” he said. “I find that to be one of the deciding factors.”

Lewiston public schools have saved thousands of dollars by developing in-house programs to serve special needs students, including some alternative programs. Instead of a charter school, Shannon said he’d rather see in-house programs developed.

Scott said she too would like to see more in-house programs built, that she “would be all for being on a committee to look at alternative education in house.”

In other business, the School Committee approved:

* A resolution directing the School Department to purchase 280 Bartlett St., the Hudson Bus property, for no more than $345,000. If the sale and environmental tests were approved, the land would be used for recreation to replace Franklin Pasture fields where the new elementary school will be built. The land swap is required by the National Park Service, which gave Lewiston the football field land years ago for recreation.

* A school budget timeline. The school budget review will begin March 1; the school budget referendum will be held May 9.

* Using $125,090 of $254,244 left from the Farwell classroom addition to cover other needs, including alternative education renovations at the armory, and upgrading the high school’s electrical and computer systems.

* Assistant Superintendent Tom Jarvis filling in for Superintendent Webster during Webster’s three-month vacation, which begins Oct. 24.

Sun Journal file photo

The Lewiston School Committee decided Monday night not to initiate an alternative charter school at Longley Elementary School on Birch Street. Construction of a new school for Longley and Martel Elementary School students is planned.

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