LOWELL -- In the midst of debate about Gov. Deval Patrick's decision to agree to shelter undocumented immigrant children in the state, the Lowell City Council voted Tuesday to seek a report about the costs for the Lowell Public Schools to educate students who arrive from other countries.
Mayor Rodney Elliott, who called for the report, said Lowell has always been a city of immigrants and will continue to be one.
But the mayor said the steady increase of newcomers into the school system from foreign countries has pushed the school system to being at or over capacity. He also said the resources for English-language learning classrooms are draining resources from mainstream classrooms.
"The school system is bursting at the seams and more children are expected," said Elliott, who chairs the School Committee. "I can't see how we can sustain this without a massive infusion of funding from the state and federal government."
Elliott said a report on the costs of educating newcomers will allow the city to indicate to state and federal leaders the level of support Lowell needs from them.
In April, Superintendent of Schools Jean Franco provided the School Committee with a report stating that the number of students entering the country with refugee status, as well as no or limited formal schooling, has increased.
The increase requires the city to expand its newcomer programs, Franco said, and shows a need to hire more English-language learning teachers to work with students who move beyond newcomer status.
As of April, Franco wrote that the city had 45 ESL teachers and more than 4,000 English-language learners, numbers Elliott cited.
City Councilor Corey Belanger said he agreed with Elliott that the continual influx of immigrant students into the Lowell school system is unsustainable for city taxpayers. He also called for the city to turn to the federal government for support for educating newcomer students.
"I'm not going to be looking to tax the homeowners of Lowell to pay for it," Belanger said. "I think that is wrong."
Elliott pointed to the influx of students as a reason more middle-schools classrooms have to be added, necessitating the School Department's Central Administration Offices in the Rogers School move elsewhere.
The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve leases for those offices to be located in the Bon Marche building at 155 Merrimack St. in the downtown, and in space across the street at 144 Merrimack St. The leases in both buildings will be for three years with two one-year options for extensions.
Gov. Patrick has said that as many as 1,000 children from Central America will be housed at either Joint Base Cape Cod in Bourne or Westover Air Base in Chicopee while they are processed by immigration officials for either deportation, reunification or asylum.
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