Later this month, the Portland City Council is scheduled to vote on a proposal to send a $64 million bond to voters that would fund needed, and long overdue, renovations to Lyseth, Longfellow, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools. The condition of these schools is currently harming Portland’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining families to the city. Renovating these schools is imperative in order to provide our students with a 21st-century learning environment, create equity in our schools, boost our property values and grow our tax base and economy.

While there is consensus that the scope of these improvements is necessary, certain city councilors are opposed to the bond. Some have suggested an alternative proposal to fund only two schools with a local bond and to place two schools back in the queue for state funding through the very competitive major capital school construction program.

The prospect of reapplying to the state for funding may seem alluring on its surface. However, once one delves into the details and the practical and political realities, it quickly becomes apparent that leaving two schools off the local bond and reapplying for state funding is a reckless proposal that will serve to diminish voter support for any bond, likely delay the timeline for renovating the four schools and severely compromise the ability of the two schools left off the bond to ever obtain funding for renovations.

Portland has been trying to get these four schools funded by the state for the past 16 years. Since 2001, and over the course of three separate funding cycles, the state has continued to reject funding for these schools. History has taught us that we should harbor no expectation that these schools will be funded by the state in the near future, either.

This is because the state funding process is unreliable and erratic. Schools do not move up the state’s priority list in a linear and predictable fashion. Over the course of the last two state funding cycles, Portland has seen two of its elementary schools only moving up one spot and two spots on the priority list, while two other schools actually have slid backward on the priority list.

Complicating matters further, the Maine Department of Education recently issued a notice indicating that the next state funding round is anticipated to be even more competitive than usual because of the high volume of inquiries received. Even under normal circumstances, it would be unreasonable to expect two of our elementary schools to rise high enough on the priority list to receive state funding. With the Department of Education anticipating an ultra-competitive funding round, the chances are slim at best of two Portland schools receiving any funding at all, much less all four schools getting the funds to be renovated in the six-year construction timeframe allowed for in the four-school bond proposal.

Proponents of continuing to hold out hope for state funding have tried to provide assurances that a second local bond could quickly be sent to voters if the two schools left off the first local bond do not obtain favorable placement on the next state priority list. These assurances are hollow, however, because today’s City Council cannot bind a future council to send a second bond to the voters.

Furthermore, by the time the next state funding list is finalized, in the summer of 2018, the composition of the City Council may have changed to include different members who could be less sympathetic to our schools’ needs and could block future attempts to send out a second bond to the voters.

Lastly, voters will almost certainly have less motivation to support a second local bond for two schools right on the heels of having just been asked to support the first local bond.

For these reasons, the two-school bond proposal should be discarded as an option. It would leave the two schools left off the first local bond in the unenviable position of being at the mercy of an unpredictable state funding process and an unpredictable future political environment at City Hall. The best way to ensure that all four schools are renovated in a timely manner is to place all four schools on one local bond and to forgo applying to the state for funding. It is time to finally allow the voters of Portland a chance to have their voices heard on a four-school proposal.