By Diana Bowley, Of the NEWS Staff - DEXTER - Growth in this Penobscot County town has put a squeeze on district schools that are bursting at the seams.SAD 46 directors on Wednesday spent hours trying to reach a consensus on whether to empty a portable classroom that now serves as the kindergarten-eighth library to make room for two special-needs classes.
At the close of the discussion, directors defeated the move by a vote of 6-5, fully aware that another solution must be found soon.
The soaring sales of real estate in the community has had a direct impact on local schools. Even the best of planning by SAD 46 officials could not anticipate the growth caused by white- and blue-collar workers who are relocating their families from cities to Dexter.
Superintendent Les Butler said a number of kindergarten children were registered just before school in the past two years. That growth added a fourth kindergarten and first-grade class, he said. In addition, more special-needs children were enrolled in the district that created the necessity for a second self-contained classroom.
The trouble facing the district is that there is no space for the second day-treatment program for special-needs children, nor is the current classroom space used for the first class adequate.
"I was horrified," board chairman Melvin Johnson said on his first visit to the small and windowless classroom. He called it "Gothic or Victorian," referring to conditions reflecting times when people who were different were kept from view.
The proposal to move the two special-needs classes to the portable classroom came after a lengthy study by the facilities committee. "The space needs at the primary school are great and quite frankly, they are at the middle school," Michael McCormick, chairman of the committee, said Wednesday. He said the district has managed the space crunch in the past by subdividing classrooms, but there are no more available rooms left to subdivide.
"This was a tough decision, and quite frankly I'd like to do some different," McCormick said, but implied there is little choice.
Some parents in the audience said they, too, hoped the district could do something different and not disrupt the library.
"It's a real shame this has to happen," Teresa Farrar, a mother of four children, said Wednesday.
Another viewpoint was given by Patti Grillo, a SAD 46 special-education teacher, who expressed her displeasure over the upheaval that is created from moving her students from one year to the next. It seems that the children with the greatest needs are the ones who have to be uprooted, she said.
Primary Principal Ann Jordan suggested that there might be another alternative, so board members sent the matter back to the facilities committee for further review. That committee will meet Dec. 11, and the full board will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 15 to resolve the problem.
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