WISCASSET — Regional School Unit 12 will save money next year by ending elementary education in Somerville and reshuffling students.

The school board has approved involuntary transfers for three educational programs. Next year, kindergarten through fifth grade students from Somerville will attend Windsor School, an elementary behavioral education program will move from Somerville to Chelsea, and the school in Somerville will house a high school alternative education program, as well as district offices.

The closing of Somerville Elementary is projected to save $257,725 through the elimination of about seven jobs. Moving the district’s central office and special education office out of two leased buildings in Whitefield could save more than $60,000.

The school board voted unanimously Thursday to approve the transfers of the Somerville elementary students and the alternative education program. The transfer of the behavioral program, however, triggered a brief debate among board members, and Chelsea representatives John Begin and Barbara Skehan voted against it.

The BACE-B behavioral program has seven students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and it must be placed in a school with other students the same age so students can be “mainstreamed” into regular classrooms.

Superintendent Greg Potter said none of the other district elementary schools can accommodate the behavioral program, while the new school in Chelsea has five classrooms not used on a daily basis.

Begin said Chelsea students suffered from crowding for many years, and residents want to make sure the new school will have room for their children if the town’s population grows.

Begin said people in Chelsea also are worried that the behavioral program could cause disruptions for students already at the school, including both regular education and another behavioral program for children with autism.

“There was also concern voiced about possible safety issues with children with behavioral issues, and with younger children particularly,” Begin said.

Some members of the school board pushed back against those objections.

“The BACE kids, they’re our kids,” Whitefield representative Joan Morin said. “They have a right to a free public education in one of our schools. To suggest that they should be housed away from some other group is utterly ridiculous, and this board should be ashamed for even thinking that.”

Potter said school leaders reevaluate the placement of programs whenever crowding or other problems arise.

“If the situation changes, that’s an advantage of being a bit larger school system, to accommodate that,” he said.

Somerville Elementary’s 15 regular education students will attend Windsor School next year, joining middle school students from their town. The school district also has an intra-district transfer that would allow families to send their children to Palermo, for example, if it’s more convenient.

The high school alternative education program typically has about 15 students and is housed in an old farmhouse on Route 17, along with the special education office.

Windsor school board member Thom Birmingham said the house has dirt floors in some places and is “a fire trap.” He said moving them to Somerville will be “a very good thing.”

“If you saw the facility where those kids are now, you would know you are expanding their opportunities by moving them out of that place,” he said.

Because an educational program is moving into Somerville, it does not meet the state’s definition for school closure, which must be approved by the voters in a community.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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