PORTLAND — School officials want to put some teeth in the district’s building-use request form after some delegates to the recent Republican State Convention tampered with a classroom at King Middle School.

Superintendent Jim Morse and others have reviewed stricter rental agreements used for the city’s municipal properties and plan to update the school district’s request form and rental policies, including fees that date back to 2002.

In particular, the form should have a clause that would hold outside groups liable for damages or losses that occur during their use of public school property, Sarah Thompson told fellow School Committee members Wednesday evening.

“I would not want to restrict access to any of our buildings and want the public to be welcomed,” Thompson said. “But we can hold them accountable for theft or other damage to our buildings.”

The Republican State Convention was held May 7 and 8 at the Portland Exposition Building, which is on Park Avenue near the middle school. Party members from Knox County caucused in a classroom used by Paul Clifford, an eighth-grade social studies teacher.

When Clifford returned to school on May 10, he found that a favorite poster about the U.S. labor movement had been taken and replaced with a bumper sticker that read, “Working People Vote Republican.”

Later, Clifford learned that his classroom had been searched. Republicans who had attended the convention called Principal Mike McCarthy to complain about “anti-American” items they saw in Clifford’s classroom, including a closed box containing copies of the U.S. Constitution that were published by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Maine Republican Party leaders have publicly denounced the actions of a few delegates.

Thompson said she talked to many teachers and community members who want to prevent similar or worse damage to the city’s public schools in the future.

“There was a feeling of outrage around these happenings and a concern that the (school district) does not have guidelines and expectations of use behind our building request form,” she said.

Thompson also wants to add a clause in the building-use form that would require users to pay the district’s legal fees if it has to take an outside group to court because school property was damaged. Another clause would indemnify the school district from personal injuries or losses that occur during non-school functions.

Morse said he has already started updating school-use policies, which would be reviewed by the district’s lawyers and the School Committee. Rental fees range from $10 to $200 per hour, depending on the size of the room, who’s using it and whether a custodian is on duty.

Committee member Liz Holton urged Morse to make sure the new form and policies aren’t too complicated or restrictive for smaller groups that often use school buildings, such as parent-teacher organizations.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]