PORTLAND — There are several cost-saving measures under consideration by a special commission created by the School Board to examine efficiency in the city’s schools.

Among them are consolidation of the two public high schools and reconfiguring high school and middle school grade groups, along with creating a new expeditionary learning school for kindergarten through grade 12.

At a Jan. 22 workshop, Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana told the School Board a review of the capacity at the city’s 10 elementary schools showed they are “running fairly efficiently,” with the exception of the schools on Cliff Island and Peaks Island.

When it comes to the three middle schools, Botana said, “overall there’s nothing dramatic” in terms of space usage, although the percentages are below what the consultants would like to see.

It’s at the high school level, he said, that usage is “significantly lower than what you would expect to see from a comprehensive (urban) high school” program. And that’s where “we have significant opportunities for potential efficiencies.”

However, Botana also said the options being considered by the Enrollment and Facility Study Commission are only a first-level list of suggestions that will have to be further analyzed to determine what can be done.


At that point, he said, it would be up to the School Board, with input from the public, to decide whether recommendations from the commission are worth the various impacts on students and families, as well as the overall educational programming.

Board member Emily Figdor said none of the options Botana outlined last week were consistent with what she called “community values” around education, including the consistent message that people like and want neighborhood schools.

Another board member, Laurie Davis, also raised concerns.

Davis said she didn’t just want to look at the number of seats that are available per school, but also at possible ways the School Department could use the Enrollment and Facility Study to “improve and enhance educational opportunities.”

Botana said it’s more than likely that all of the measures ultimately recommended by the special commission would have “programmatic impact,” but that was something for the School Board to weigh.

He said the commission was given a very specific charge, which was to look at the data regarding the usage of school buildings, and current and future enrollment, to see if and where money could be saved.


Botana said the School Department is expecting another significant reduction in state aid to education, although the new Legislature has yet to receive Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed state budget, which could end up including more money for school districts across Maine.

The schools also have ongoing capital needs, including the $3.5 million now part of the city’s proposed fiscal year 2020 capital improvement plan.

The total spending plan of $21 million was endorsed by the City Council’s Finance Committee last week and now goes to the full council for consideration. The proposed school projects would largely replace windows and air handling units and also include remodeling the kitchen at Deering High School.

Botana said on Jan. 22 that even if the School Board chooses not to make any changes to the current grade configurations or enrollment districts, he suggested it at least consider closing the Bayside Learning Community, and possibly relocating the Portland Adult Education program.

Bayside, which is in the same building as the district’s central office, at 353 Cumberland Ave., provides for students with serious behavioral and emotional needs, according to a Portland Press Herald article published Jan. 22.

Closing Bayside, which was also discussed at last week’s School Board meeting, would mean redistributing some of its services to schools throughout the city, while also creating a new, four-classroom day treatment facility that could serve up to 32 students, the Press Herald said.


Such a move, however, would increase annual costs for the special education program from $2.8 million to an estimated $3 million.

Enrollment projections over the next five to six years, Botana said, are relatively flat. In 2018 the total district enrollment was 6,764 students; for 2025 the consultant is predicting the student population will be 6,724.

The Enrollment and Facility Study Commission is set to meet again at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, at Casco Bay High School. Botana said he anticipates the group will have recommendations ready for review by the week of Feb. 11.

He said the plan would be to hold at least one public hearing on those recommendations. Then the School Board would have time to deliberate in March before the new fiscal year school budget is finalized.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

A consultant says that neither Portland High School, above, or Deering High School are being used to capacity.

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