PORTLAND – A plan to create a shared schedule for the city’s three public high schools needs some work, according to one School Committee member who will be voting on the plan on Wednesday.
Under the plan, Portland, Deering and Casco Bay high schools would schedule and combine low-enrollment classes at the start and end of each day. The core of each school’s schedule would remain unchanged.
Superintendent Jim Morse, who started in July, called for the change to allow greater sharing of teachers, students and resources among the high schools, especially as increasing budget cuts threaten to reduce staff and eliminate low-enrollment courses.
Committee member Jaimey Caron thinks the change doesn’t go far enough. Caron has proposed a condition of approval that would define specific academic, staffing and cost-saving goals to be achieved by the schedule change.
Caron said he wants to hold the committee and district employees accountable for how the change will be implemented and what it will accomplish.
”Absent that, we’re as likely to make it worse as make it better,” Caron said. ”I want to make sure we understand exactly what we’re doing now, how it’s going to change and how it’s going to work.”
The committee will consider the schedule change and Caron’s condition of approval when it meets at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Room 250 at Portland Arts and Technology High School. If approved, the schedule change would be implemented in the fall.
Morse appointed a task force last fall to develop a shared high school schedule — something past superintendents have tried but failed to do.
Portland High students now take up to eight classes throughout the year, alternating blocks of classes every other day.
Deering High students take up to four courses during the fall semester and another four courses during the spring semester, like college students. Casco Bay High students have a six-period day.
As a result, the high schools often compete for resources — a situation that Morse said cannot continue in the face of a $6 million reduction in state and federal funding in the coming school year.
Caron’s condition of approval would direct Morse to submit a report by June 30 detailing current and future course offerings, course enrollments and staff assignments at each high school.
The report would include key indicators showing how the schedule change will improve student performance, course availability, cost effectiveness, staff development and technology use.
The condition of approval also calls for a cost analysis of the change’s impact on other district programs, such as transportation, food services and special education, as well as a corrective-action plan to address aspects of the change that don’t work.
”I think we can agree that there are issues in the high schools that need to be addressed,” Caron said. ”I want to make sure we do it right.”
Morse said it makes sense to establish benchmarks to measure the success of the schedule change.
However, he suggested that they be tied to his original reasons for the change: to allow greater sharing of teachers and students, to increase student access to a wider variety of courses and to preserve low-enrollment courses under threat of budget cuts.
”Academic performance is important, but that’s a different conversation,” Morse said.