BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor School Department has proposed that an education program for students with severe emotional and behavioral difficulties move from its Old Town location to Bangor.
The Southern Penobscot Regional Program is currently operated by Regional School Unit 34, which serves Old Town, but is funded by and admits students from 23 different school districts in the Bangor area. The program in Old Town accepts students aged 5 to 20 who need services that cannot be provided in a traditional school and prepares them to return to their community school, if possible.
Bangor Superintendent Betsy Webb said administrators in the region have been hoping to upgrade the facility for 15 years.
“We were fortunate to find a building in Bangor that the city owns so the school committee and the city council were meeting to discuss the possibility of using that building for the program,” she said of a meeting that took place between the Bangor School Committee and the Bangor City Council in late January.
The school committee is interested in a building located at 208 Maine Ave., a city-owned building that is currently vacant but housed the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce and Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau until the fall of 2013, according to economic development officer Steve Bolduc.
At Monday night’s city council meeting, the council voted to allow the city to continue to work with the Bangor School Department on behalf of the regional program to work out the details of using the building, according to Webb.
Webb said the next step will be to form an agreement between the participating school districts. Each district will have to vote to become part of the agreement. If all districts join, renovations will begin this year.
“The superintendents in general … they’re excited about the possibility of getting a more modern-style building,” said Murray Shulman, the executive director of the Southern Penobscot Regional Program for Children with Exceptionalities, the umbrella organization that facilitates the Southern Penobscot Regional Program in Old Town.
“I’m optimistic that the agreement will come to a close at the end of this month,” he said.
Webb hopes the new facility will start operating in the fall of 2014. She said the move and renovations will cost the coalition of school districts $250,000, though Shulman said the cost of the move is still being determined.
The program costs about $35,000 to $40,000 a year per student and 40 students are currently enrolled, though the number changes regularly, according to Shulman. Tuition is paid by the sending district. About 2 percent of the program’s $2.14 million budget goes toward administrative costs, he said, which will go to the Bangor School Department if the move takes place.
Bangor School Department director of business Alan Kochis said that the move will likely save the participating districts money.
“The budget we’ve developed, though it hasn’t been finalized, is lower than the current operating budget,” he said.
There are 35 employees, who will not be guaranteed a job in the new facility, though they will be able to apply.
“There’s no automatic transfer because they become employees of the host district,” Shulman said.
“The loss of jobs here is a concern and since we serve as a fiscal agent for the program, it’s a loss of revenue for the school system,” said RSU 34 superintendent David Walker.
Old Town has sponsored the facility in various locations since 1979, when the program began, Shulman said. For more than a decade it has been housed at 21 Jefferson St. in a building that was constructed at the turn of the century, according to Walker.
The new facility could provide students and staff with larger learning spaces and is on one floor, which is preferable, Webb said. She added that being in Bangor would give students field trip opportunities and allow for coordination with other programs that are in the city. She said the program offered and the number of students served would most likely remain the same.