The organized opposition to bonding to fix four Portland elementary schools resembles the campaign for the “non-casino” casino in York County: Both involve gambling but don’t admit it. The casino is obvious, but the opposition to bonding to fix four schools also depends on a high-stakes gamble to succeed.

“Betters Schools, Better Deal, 2 + 2 Yes on Question 4” says it wants to bond to fix only Presumpscot and Lyseth schools and then win the intense state funding competition to fix Longfellow and Reiche. Since state funding would be “free,” the opponents argue that bonding to fix all four is unwise.

The difference between the “bond four” and “bond two” arguments is one of mathematics: “Bond four” actually would fix all four schools (four = four), while “bond two” would fix only two and gamble that Portland would win the competition for state funding. In mathematical terms, “bond two” is: (2 schools + (2 schools multiplied by the probability of winning the state funding competition twice, not for just one school.)) It is not “2 + 2 = 4,” or even close.

The School Facilities Ad Hoc Committee calculated the chance of winning state funding of one school at 1 in 15, or 6.67 percent. That puts the “bond two” likely number of schools ultimately fixed at about two and one tenth, or 2.13 or less. (See formula above.) That’s not even three schools fixed, let alone four.

Could Portland win in this round? Possible, but unlikely.

The Maine Department of Education says that “repeat applications typically fall within similar scoring ranges on the new proposed priority list compared with their placement on the previous list.”

City officials told the City Council: “The MDOE makes very clear that current/previous rankings have no bearing on future rankings.” Councilor Belinda Ray notes that Longfellow School’s proposal has advanced in ranking every round.

Surely Portland cannot be employing a strategy of deliberately failing to properly fund school maintenance and repair to cynically advance Portland’s chances of success at state funding over time.

In the 2017-2018 round, there are 81 school funding proposals, of which Portland has six. Fifty-nine entirely new proposals have been submitted. That’s why the competition is always tough for “free” school funding.

Since 2000, Portland has won three awards. That’s three projects out of 48 funded by the state, or 6 percent (again), over 17 years.

Unfortunately, Portland’s proposals are far from sure bets. In fact, compared with games of chance at a Maine casino, the chances of success with state funding are poor.

Maine casino law requires that at least 89 percent of all monies wagered to be won back by customers. Blackjack favors the casino by 52 percent to 48 percent on average, and other table games are similar. Still, few people go to the casino to pay college tuitions.

And casino bets obviously are far better than competing for state education construction awards.

Portland can afford to fix four schools, especially since Portland has long failed to fund proper maintenance and repair of these same schools. Portland is not poor.

Yes, we have many low-income citizens, but we also are building over 600 luxury condominiums, keeping reservation lists full all summer at high-end Portland restaurants and making all those “Best This” and “Best That” lists.

There is a moral aspect to this, too. Gambling with our own money is our choice. But gambling with the educational opportunity of hundreds of Portland children verges on the reckless, especially when it is unnecessary.

If we can build entire blocks of luxury condos and give big tax breaks to developers, we have the resources to fix four schools over six to eight years, as Question 3 would approve. Remember, even the opponents of bonding to fix all four schools do not dispute the need to fix all four schools; they just are willing to gamble on a funding system stacked against Portland.

The growing sense of inequality in America, the source of much of the anger that elected Donald Trump, has a significant basis in the real world, including in Portland. Childhood education creates a more level playing field for each new generation.

Let’s be certain we provide this basic opportunity to our Portland children. Let’s not gamble on their futures. Let’s bond to fix all four schools by approving only Question 3.

filed under: