PORTLAND – School and community leaders are seeking new funding sources for sports and music programs that likely will be in the 2010-11 school budget but could be eliminated in the future without intervention.

Representatives of the Boston Scholar Athlete Program will attend a School Committee workshop at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to explain how Portland can develop community support for school sports programs.

The district also may apply for a multimillion-dollar federal grant to establish a music program targeting low-income and minority students, modeled after Venezuela’s famous national youth orchestra program, El Sistema.

The School Committee is on track to preserve $399,000 worth of middle school and freshman high school sports programs, and $160,000 for elementary band and orchestra programs, in the budget it will vote on Wednesday night.

However, school employees and others involved in the programs will be expected to help find new funding sources, such as the sports funding program that committee members Sarah Thompson and Jaimey Caron began investigating late last year.

“We’re giving these programs a reprieve for one year, but we expect people to jump on the bus with us and take it to the next step,” Thompson said Monday.

While many people support extracurricular activities as an important part of public education, school officials say more and more of the district’s $89.8 million budget must be dedicated to classroom instruction. That’s especially true, they say, because the district is bracing for an estimated $4 million reduction in state and federal funding in the next school year and a similar loss in 2011-12.

Thompson and Caron went to Boston earlier this year to meet with representatives of the Boston Scholar Athlete Program, which promotes academic achievement through athletics in a district with 56,000 students.

The program was established last year with a $1 million donation from the Red & Blue Foundation, the charitable arm of the Suffolk Construction Co. At the time, organizers set out to raise $7.5 million to support nine boys’ and girls’ sports teams and generate $3 million in donations per year to establish an endowment.

To start a similar funding program for Portland’s 7,000 students, Thompson and Caron want the school district to conduct a formal review of its extracurricular programs, especially the $1.5 million sports lineup.

Thompson and Caron have drafted a resolution, to be considered at a future committee meeting, that would direct the superintendent to issue a detailed report on extracurricular activities by Sept. 1. The report would include costs, participation rates and a plan to consolidate various athletic booster clubs into a single organization for the 2010-11 school year.

As for music programs, school officials hope to partner with the Portland Symphony Orchestra and apply for a federal economic recovery grant through the Investing in Innovation Fund of the U.S. Department of Education, Thompson said. The application is due in May.

The money could be used to bring in a Jose Abreu Fellow from the New England Conservatory of Music to help develop an El Sistema-inspired program here, said Ari Solotoff, executive director of the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

Founded by Abreu, El Sistema has spawned many renowned musicians, including Gustavo Dudamel, a 29-year-old composer, conductor and violinist who is the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

“We are eager to work with the school system to see how we can help them provide music education in the schools,” Solotoff said.


Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]


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