PORTLAND – Grades among the city’s public high school students are an average 8.8 points higher if they play sports, according to a consultant’s report delivered this week to the School Committee.

It’s a striking statistic for school officials, who face increasing pressure to cut spending on sports and other extracurricular activities rather than lay off teachers or trim academic programs.

“It shows that sports and co-curricular programs do have an educational value,” said Jaimey Caron, a committee member. “It’s why we’re fighting so hard to preserve them.”

The committee hired the Red & Blue Foundation of Boston to do the first comprehensive review of athletic and co-curricular programs in Maine’s largest school district and recommend improvements and funding alternatives. For years, cost, staffing and student participation data has been buried in annual budget documents.

The district spends $1 million a year on sports and $120,000 on clubs at Portland and Deering high schools. Students at the much smaller Casco Bay High School may participate in programs at the other high schools.

School Committee members contacted the foundation after it started the Boston Scholar Athlete Program last year to promote academics through corporate-sponsored sports programs in that city’s public schools. The foundation is a charitable arm of Suffolk Construction Inc., which gave $1 million to start the program.

After reviewing Portland’s athletic and co-curricular programs, the foundation concluded that the district could establish a similar nonprofit organization to seek funding beyond taxpayers and booster groups.

“Establishing a registered (nonprofit foundation) for Portland public high schools would create the opportunity for the district to tap into new funding sources,” the report says. “Through conversations with representatives from the corporate community, professional sports teams and educational institutions, we believe that Portland could receive additional funding through establishing public-private partnerships.”

To learn about Portland’s extracurricular programs, the foundation interviewed 65 students, parents, teachers, administrators, city officials and others. It also reviewed 150 surveys, a variety of budget data and other information.

The foundation determined that the district has strong extracurricular programs, quality coaches and mentors, a supportive administration and active booster groups.

The foundation also identified a lack of consistent and clear communication across the district, as well as opportunities to reduce costs and make programming more equitable through better record-keeping and a more centralized approach.

“Every sentence has meaning,” Superintendent Jim Morse said of the report. “We will use this report as a template for our athletic and co-curricular program development and budget planning from now on.”

The committee is expected to review the report’s findings at an upcoming workshop and hold a community forum to develop an action plan.

 

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

[email protected]