A committee studying how to expand Portland’s pre-K program has recommended adding classrooms both in district buildings and at community partner sites.

The school board curriculum committee backed the proposal on a 2-0 vote Wednesday night and it now goes to the full school board, which will take up the issue at its Feb. 26 meeting.

“This is just the start of the conversation,” committee chairman Mark Balfantz said.

A third committee member, District 1 board member Micky Bondo, recused herself from the vote because she sits on the board of The Opportunity Alliance, one of the community partners involved in expansion plans.

Under the preferred option, known as “Pathway 2,” the district will maintain its current eight pre-K classrooms while adding five pre-K classrooms in district buildings and four more at community partner sites. At full expansion, this option would cost an estimated $3 million.

But that doesn’t include transportation costs, which each of the committee members said was a concern. Transportation costs could add up to $50,000 to retrofit buses or as much as $300,000 to purchase new buses.

Portland currently spends approximately $800,000 to serve 124 pre-K students. The district’s goal is to expand the program by 140 students, or nine classrooms, over five years.

Currently there are six classrooms in Riverton, Presumpscot, Rowe, East End and Peaks Island schools, two classrooms are partnerships with private preschool providers (Catherine Morrill Day Nursery School and Youth and Family Outreach), and one classroom is in partnership with The Opportunity Alliance’s Head Start program, serving students in the Reiche school area.

The teachers union said its members support expanding pre-K, but oppose any effort by the district to hire contracted workers to staff pre-K classrooms in district buildings. Under the preferred option, the community partners would staff the off-site classrooms, and teachers and education technicians would staff the new classrooms in district buildings.

The proposal comes amid widespread interest in investing in early childhood education. Studies consistently show that children in early education programs are more likely to finish their educations, avoid the criminal justice system, hold good jobs and have stable families.

But results can vary widely, and to be effective, pre-K programs must be high-quality and include rigorous, regular evaluations to ensure effectiveness.

The other options under consideration were to have all new pre-K classrooms located in district buildings and taught by district employees, or to contract out all new pre-K classrooms to partner agencies.

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

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