June 26, 2013

Portland OKs plan to ease school overcrowding

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Facing overcrowding for a second year at Ocean Avenue Elementary School, the Portland School Board voted Tuesday to carve out two neighborhoods on the edges of the school’s existing community and have new kindergartners there go to either East End or Hall elementary schools.

Current students and siblings of Ocean Avenue students can continue to attend the school, which is the newest school in Portland.

“It’s probably the best solution we have,” said Board Chairman Jaimey Caron. “It’s a grandfathering of folks and beginning the transition of these two neighborhoods to what could be a more comprehensive redistricting.”

Students in a Libbytown neighborhood, between Douglass and Bradley streets, and from Brighton Avenue to the Fore River, will go to Hall, which is scheduled for replacement. Students in an East Bayside neighborhood, between Preble and Franklin streets, and from Marginal Way to Commercial Street, will go to East End Community School, which is also new.

The decision was described as a step toward what several board members called a likely redistricting in the future. But the district is in the midst of planning a major renovation of five elementary schools, including the replacement of Hall, and officials do not want to consider redistricting until that process is complete.

Further, district officials project overcrowding at several elementary schools in upcoming years. One outlook for 2014 puts four of the city’s eight elementary schools at over 100 percent: Longfellow (101); Reiche (120); Riverton (111); and Ocean Avenue (125.)

“It’s a really uncomfortable position to be in,” said board member Kate Snyder, explaining that she would rather the board managed enrollment this way, instead of “redistricting on a dime.” “This is the first band aid; I expect we are going to see a few more of them.”

School officials said Ocean Avenue officials have already put classroom space into flexible space areas, but do not want to repurpose the music and art rooms, or increase class size. District staff said Hall and East End have the capacity to add classrooms, where Ocean Avenue does not.

Redistricting is not only a lengthy process, it is contentious because many parents move to specific neighborhoods for the local schools. Officials haven't redrawn district lines since the 1990s.

Also Tuesday, the board voted to reinstate full-time assistant principal positions at Deering and Portland high schools and at Ocean Avenue and Hall elementary schools - including the 2009 Maine Teacher of the Year, Gloria Noyes. Superintendent Manny Caulk said the district found the funds to reinstate the positions due to a re-negotiated union contract and shifting existing resources at the high schools.

As part of the board meeting, the new contract with the Portland Administrators Association was approved. The union members were due a 4.8 percent raise next year under their contract, and they agreed to cut it to 1.5 percent.

District officials are still talking to two of the school's four unions, with particular attention to the Portland Education Association, whose more than 600 members are in line for $1.7 million in raises next year.

The assistant principals at the high schools were cut from full time to three-quarters time in the budget process, and Tuesday’s vote restores the positions to full time. The full-time assistant principal positions at Hall, Ocean and Longfellow, were cut entirely.

All together, Tuesday’s vote reinstates 2.5 full time equivalent positions out of about 49 full-time equivalent positions that were cut as a result of the budget process.

Portland voters overwhelmingly passed a $96.4 million school budget earlier this month, but it does not account for possible cuts in state funding, including a proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to shift $1.3 million in teachers' retirement contributions from the state to the school district. If the cuts are adopted by the Legislature, Portland will have to revise its budget and make even more cuts.

The budget for the year starting July 1 will increase the schools' portion of Portland's property

tax rate by 3 percent, adding $58 to the annual tax bill for a home with an assessed value of $200,000.

In other business, the board voted to approve a lease agreement with the Catholic Diocese to use the vacant Cathedral School to house part of the city’s Adult Education program. The program had been housed at West School, which had to be closed due to failing systems.

click image to enlarge

In this 2011 file photo, Portland's Ocean Avenue Elementary School entrance, with an art installation in the foreground. Facing overcrowding for a second year at Ocean Avenue Elementary School, the Portland School Board voted Tuesday, June 25, 2013 to carve out two neighborhoods on the edges of the school’s existing community and have new kindergartners there go to either East End or Hall elementary schools.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

In this January 2013 file photo, students at Ocean Avenue Elementary School paint a Wall of Dreams mural to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Facing overcrowding for a second year at Ocean Avenue Elementary School, the Portland School Board voted Tuesday, June 25, 2013 to carve out two neighborhoods on the edges of the school’s existing community and have new kindergartners there go to either East End or Hall elementary schools.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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