Tentative support for a possible cost-cutting reorganization of Portland schools was sharply criticized by a dozen speakers Tuesday night.

The plan has not yet been officially recommended to the school board, but already is drawing fire from critics who say it would be highly disruptive for students and teachers, ignore the importance of school culture, and limit academic and extracurricular activities for students.

The proposal is “deeply flawed,” said Portland High School teacher Christine Braceras. “It ignores what makes schools really work – a sense of community and belonging.”

Braceras was one of many teachers who spoke against the idea.

The Enrollment and Facilities Commission has not voted yet, but its members said they are considering whether to recommend an “only if necessary” district reorganization, known as option 2, if the district faces a large budget shortfall. It rejected several other options.

Staff members said the district faces a potential state funding shortfall of as much as several million dollars, but recently learned that education funding under the governor’s budget would result in Portland getting a roughly $700,000 increase in state funding.

The commission’s possible recommendation would reduce Portland’s $110 million school budget by $2.8 million. The district currently has three high schools, three middle schools and 10 elementary schools. The reorganization would result in:

• Two high schools: Casco Bay High School would be unchanged for grades 9-12, and Portland and Deering high schools would combine into one high school for grades 10-12 for about 1,200 students.

• One middle school: for grades 7-9 for about 1,400 students.

• Two buildings, likely at one former middle school: for grades 5 and 6.

• Elementary schools: for pre-K to grade four – with the possibility of closing one elementary school, which would require redistricting.

The district’s administration offices and the adult education program would be relocated to the middle school that would close.

The commission has not set the date of its next meeting, where it will discuss the comments made at the public hearing before considering whether to make a recommendation to the board.

“I’m urging you to not recommend option 2 to the school board,” said Ericka Lee-Winship, who teaches at Portland High. The consultants working with the commission “came up with a scheme to save a few bucks, but clearly none of these experts live in Portland,” she said. “The new mega-schools will feel impersonal.”

Of the 13 speakers, all were opposed except for one speaker who supported the idea.

Also Tuesday, the school board held a workshop and had a first reading on a plan to expand pre-K by 140 new seats over the next five years. A committee has recommended adding classrooms both in district buildings and at community partner sites.

Under the preferred option, known as “Pathway 2,” the district would 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.

Portland currently spends approximately $800,000 to serve 124 pre-K students.

The discussion Tuesday largely focused on how to compensate teachers who would be serving students at community partner sites. The Portland teachers union and at least several board members said they want those off-site teachers to be part of the union.

“I’ll be very clear on this issue,” board member Laurie Davis said. “If teachers are teaching on behalf of Portland Public Schools, it is my belief they should be Portland Public School teachers.

“This is an area where women have been underpaid for decades,” Davis said. “As a board member I don’t see that it’s appropriate to vote to continue that.”

District staff said they would provide more compensation information at the next board meeting, when the board will vote on the pre-K proposal.

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

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Twitter: noelinmaine


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