June 13, 2013

Portland Adult Education loses its home

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND –  For years, teachers and students of Portland Adult Education dealt with the leaky roof, the finicky boiler and the decaying floors. At least they had a home.

click image to enlarge

West School on Douglass Street in Portland will close, leaving Portland Adult Ed looking for a new home.

2011 Press Herald File Photo

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Students in Portland's Adult Education program wait for the school bus at the West School in Portland on Thursday June 13, 2013.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Soon, they won't even have that.

At the end of this month, classes will wrap up for the semester and the West School, home of the city's adult education program for 27 years, will be shut down.

Portland school officials are still working out arrangements to relocate the program for the fall, but all of the scenarios involve splitting up classes, students and the staff, said Director Rob Wood.

Portland Adult Education holds classes for GED testing, English language and jobs skills, among others.

Some classes will move to the former Cathedral School, which is vacant. Others will move to the ground floor of Portland High School.

Wood and high school completion counselor Anja Hanson have been told that the move is temporary. Their move to the West School 27 years ago was supposed to be temporary, too.

Portland Adult Education reaches more than 4,000 residents each year, including hundreds of immigrants and refugees who have limited English language skills.

"We've always been sort of striving for a centralized location," Hanson said Thursday at the West School as adults shuffled through the hallways, many speaking other languages. "These students have a continuum of needs."

Friends of Portland Adult Education, a nonprofit group, has launched an effort to work with the city and Portland Public Schools to find a permanent, standalone building. Wood said 22,000 square feet -- enough space for a dozen classrooms and administrative offices -- would do the job.

The need for adult education is greater than ever. Last year, Wood successfully lobbied to get an extra $75,000 in city funding to help the nearly 250 adults who were on a waiting list for classes. The extra money helped enroll 170 students.

This year, the waiting list is back up to 240.

"It's just growing all the time," Wood said. "If we're telling refugees and others to come here, we need to have a vital adult education program."

Emmanuel Caulk, superintendent of Portland schools, said in a prepared statement that he and his staff are committed to funding a safe and healthy environment for adult education, but he didn't offer a long-term solution.

"I don't think they have a long-term solution," Hanson said. "They have told us the plan for next year is a plan B."

School officials have proposed more than $70 million in renovations or replacements for five schools. The project needs voters' approval because it includes a $40 million bond. None of that money would go to the West School or Portland Adult Education.

But Wood said he doesn't need much.

Portland Adult Education has an annual budget of about $2.5 million, about a third of which comes from the city's taxpayers. The rest comes from state and federal sources.

Wood and Hanson said anyone who doubts the need and efficacy of the program should have been at Merrill Auditorium on Thursday evening, when about 200 people walked across the stage to receive their high school certification.

Tommy Wyman, 47, was one of them.

Wyman was laid off last year when the Hostess bakery in Biddeford went through bankruptcy and closed. He had worked there for 25 years.

When Wyman started looking for other work, no one would talk to him because he didn't have a high school diploma.

Now, after finishing with Portland Adult Education, he plans to keep going. He has enrolled in Southern Maine Community College's welding program.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@mainetoday.com

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Students in Portland's Adult Education program wait to board the school bus as the next wave of students get off at the West School in Portland on Thursday June 13, 2013.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Students in Portland's Adult Education program wait to board the school bus as the next wave of students get off at the West School in Portland on Thursday June 13, 2013.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

 


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