Monday, December 9, 2013
PORTLAND — The school board is recommending a mix of state and local funds to overhaul five of the city’s elementary schools.
The board voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend a $39.9 million bond to improve three of the city’s elementary schools while counting on about $31 million in state funds to replace Hall Elementary School and make improvements at Longfellow Elementary School.
“Now is the time for Portland to commit to making a long-term investment in the city’s elementary schools,” said Chief Operations Officer Peter Eglinton. “It will have lasting effects for decades to come … (and) our children deserve nothing less.”
The board’s recommendation will go to the City Council. The bond proposal would go before voters in November.
“This is the best balance of impact to local taxpayers and the opportunity to address a chronic facilities need,” said school board Chairman Jaimey Caron. “This is the opportunity to get the most return for our investment.”
State officials have assured city officials that Portland’s $20 million replacement of Hall Elementary School will be approved for funding through the state’s Major Capital School Construction Program.
Every few years, the Department of Education seeks applications for state funding and issues a priority list for approved projects, usually getting through about 20 projects in a multi-year funding cycle. The state has already approved the first six projects on the priority list announced in 2011. The Hall school project is 12th on the list and the Longfellow project, expected to cost $11.3 million, is 18th.
Several speakers at Tuesday’s meeting urged the board to approve the plan. One speaker opposed the proposal.
“You shouldn’t have to choose where you are going to live based on the school. Every neighborhood should benefit from having equity,” said Catharine Hartnett, who has a fifth-grader at Presumpscot Elementary School and served on a task force that made recommendations on the elementary school renovation plan. “We worked really hard to have equity.”
School board member Justin Costa noted that, in his district, one elementary school is brand new while students at another “have to put on snow pants and jackets and boots to go to a bathroom out of a modular classroom in a Maine winter.”
“That’s not OK,” Costa said. “That’s fundamentally what this is about.”
Portland officials discussed funding all of the projects locally. A consultant estimated that it would cost between $46 million, for basic improvements, and $74.2 million, for more elaborate improvements, at the schools.
Board members said the state funding for two of the projects allowed them to select an option that will provide more significant improvements at all schools.
“It’s time all of our schools are at the same level, with the same amenities, and provide the same sort of environment for education,” said board member Laurie Davis.
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org