Portland’s school district staff is recommending changes to how students with behavioral and emotional needs are served, including closing the Bayside Learning Community downtown and redistributing those services into multiple schools throughout the district.

“This work is not just nice, it’s necessary,” said Melea Nalli, the district’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

Under the proposal, presented to the school board Tuesday, the program will be renamed the Breathe program.

Students with serious behavioral and emotional needs now are served at the Bayside school, which has room for up to 48 students. Students with fewer needs are served in multiple behavioral classrooms that already exist in the middle schools and Portland and Deering high schools. Under the proposal, new Breathe classrooms would be added in elementary schools and at Casco Bay High School.

Nalli said the expansion would allow the district to better serve students in the middle, who need support and on-site help, but do not need to be in a day program. Likewise, distributed resources at schools means some students currently at Bayside could have some access to traditional classrooms.

The proposed Breathe program would serve 142 students, compared to 103 students now, Nalli said.

The proposal to re-distribute services into schools comes at the same time the district is undergoing an enrollment and capacity survey that is part of an effort to find cost-cutting measures.

The results of that analysis will help staff identify a new location for a day treatment center for students with the greatest needs and determine which elementary schools should house new Breathe programs, Nalli said.

The Bayside Learning Community now shares a three-story building with the Portland school district’s central administrative offices at 353 Cumberland Ave., a former Goodwill building. John Patriquin/2013 Press Herald file

At two elementary schools – tentatively East End Community School and Rowe Elementary School – there would be two Breathe classrooms at each school, one for grades K-2 and one for grades 3-5. With 11 students and four personnel in each Breathe classroom, there would be a total capacity for 44 elementary students.

Each of Portland’s three middle schools would have one Breathe classroom, for a total capacity of 33 students. At the high schools, there would be one Breathe classroom at Portland and Deering high schools, and at Casco Bay High School, a Breathe classroom for students on the autism spectrum.

A new day treatment facility would have four classrooms for a total capacity of 32 students.

The Bayside school now shares a single three-story building with the district’s central administrative offices, which are upstairs and use an address of 353 Cumberland Ave. The former Goodwill Industries building was purchased for $3.6 million in 2013 to house the administrative offices, which were then at Casco Bay High School, and Bayside Learning Community, formerly known as the West Program. At the time, the Bayside program – known then as the West program – was in a short-term lease in Falmouth after the district had to close the West School in Portland because of the building’s failing condition.

Parents and staff have advocated for a change to the Bayside school for more than a year, raising issues about the appropriateness of the downtown space.

“Since I’ve started (on the board) this has been a hot topic,” board member Tim Atkinson said, “It’s good to see the plans coming together.”

The proposed changes would increase annual costs for the program from $2.8 million to an estimated $3 million.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

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Twitter: noelinmaine

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