BRUNSWICK, Maine — A proposal for a preschool program surfaced again at a Brunswick School Board workshop Wednesday night.
It remains to be seen if it will be implemented next school year.
Meanwhile, the board’s schedule to develop plans for a new 660-pupil elementary school appears to be falling behind because cost estimates won’t be known until at least February 2014.
During a presentation for the proposed preschool program, Director of Student Services Paul Austin said nearly half of this year’s newly registered students in grades 1-5 qualify for free and reduced lunch programs.
He said that’s a changing demographic and a reason to consider adopting a preschool program,. The program could help improve academic opportunities for economically disadvantaged students.
“Brunswick is very fortunate to have several high-quality private preschool programs,” Austin said. “The unfortunate fact is that many of our families cannot afford to pay for [their children] to attend one of those.”
“[The proposed preschool program] is intended to ensure that all children, regardless of their ability to pay, have the same opportunity to attend a high quality program,” he continued. “It’s also to better equip our children with the adequate readiness skills and social skills that are absolutely essentially for school success and improved achievement.”
Austin said the first-year costs of the program would be nearly $305,000, or nearly $40,000 more than when the proposal was floated in 2011.
The preschool program could be phased in over multiple years, Austin said, starting with the 2014-15 school year.
The first year would begin with two classes of 15 students each, two sessions per day, bringing the total number of students to 60. The numbers would double the next year.
As part of a state incentive program, the Maine Department of Education would reimburse the school department for every preschool student for double the amount of the normal rate for elementary students.
Within a few years under that model, Austin said, the school department would be able to recoup more than half of the costs to run the program as it grows.
Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said his team won’t decide on recommending the preschool program as a priority for next year’s budget until sometime around February or March.
Two School Board members, however, are already expressing contrasting views of the program. Rich Ellis said he would make the program a priority, while William Thompson said he wouldn’t.
Earlier Wednesday night, the board was presented with three new drawings of site plans for a new elementary school that would be constructed at the site of the former Jordan Acres Elementary School.
After providing Lyndon Keck and Alan Kuniholm of PDT Architects with feedback on how to move forward, the board decided it will reconvene in January in an attempt to begin solidifying those plans.
Keck said that means a cost estimate for the new elementary school, which was previously estimated at $22 million, won’t emerge until late February or early March 2014, a month or two later than planned.
Board members said they hope to increase public involvement as plans for a new elementary school become more solid.
The proposal of a new elementary school emerged earlier this year after the board learned that the cost of renovating the aging Coffin Elementary School would only be about $4 million less than new school construction.
The board at that time also deferred a decision to renovate Brunswick Junior High School, which would have happened in tandem with renovation of Coffin. Together, the two projects were estimated to cost $38 million.