City officials have ordered the removal of political signs posted by Concerned Ethnic Fathers, a group that has voiced opposition to Portland’s proposed school budget and raised concerns about the district’s equity work.

A sign encouraging voters to reject the Portland school budget says it was paid for by a group called Concerned Ethnic Fathers. The city said it has asked the public works department to remove the signs, including this one near the intersection of Vannah Avenue and Clifton Street, because they don’t include identifying information required by state statute. Rachel Ohm/Staff Writer

City Clerk Katherine Jones and city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said Tuesday that the public works department has been asked to remove the signs from public rights-of-way because they don’t include the address of the party responsible for them or the date the signs were posted as is required by state statute.

The signs read, “Vote NO on 1. $125.2 million Portland School Budget. Provide Equity for All Students.”

Portland residents already have begun casting absentee ballots in the June 8 school budget referendum. The $125.2 million budget includes about $2.9 million in new investments in equity initiatives as part of a $5.3 million, 4.4 percent, spending increase.

It was unclear Tuesday who is behind Concerned Ethnic Fathers. Political action committees are required to file campaign finance reports with the city only once they reach $1,500 in spending, and city officials said they had no information on the group.

An Instagram page, @_concernedethnic, includes the description, “Ethnic Fathers in Portland Maine are concerned about our school board pushing Critical Race Theory disguised as ‘equity.’ Vote No on June 8th.” A message sent to the page was not returned Tuesday.

The Portland Republican City Committee also has voiced opposition to the school budget, although Chairman Josh Kelton said Tuesday that he was not familiar with Concerned Ethnic Fathers and did not know who was behind the group.

Equity in Portland Schools, a nonprofit that advocates for equity in the district, first raised concerns about Concerned Ethnic Fathers and its signs in Facebook posts over the weekend and in an email Tuesday.

The group also raised concerns about a Facebook page, Vote NO on June 8th for the FY22 $125.2M Portland Public School Budget, that uses the same image for its cover photo as the avatar for Concerned Ethnic Fathers on Instagram. The administrator of the Facebook page, Nathaniel Deloach, did not respond to a message sent Tuesday.

“Use of ‘equity for all students’ is an attempt to co-opt equity, a propaganda tool being used by the extreme-right against equity and anti-racism work in schools,” Equity in Portland Schools wrote in a document examining Concerned Ethnic Fathers’ sign campaign and statement about critical race theory. Critical race theory is the idea that racism is a social construct and is embedded in social and legal systems and policies.

Many conservatives and critics, including former President Donald Trump, have denounced critical race theory, saying it is divisive and promotes the idea that white people should feel guilty for their skin color. Some states are considering legislation banning it from being taught in schools.

“We are focused on working for Portland kids and we don’t want to conflate national politics with our local school budget,” Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana said in a statement in response to questions about Concerned Ethnic Fathers’ signs and messaging. “That budget won the approval of both the Portland Board of Public Education and the City Council. It was approved with multiple opportunities for public input and we didn’t hear any of these concerns at the time. Anyone who wants to can bring their concerns to a board meeting. The board listens to public comment at the start of every meeting.”

“I’ve never seen an organized effort to defeat the school budget and certainly not one that parrots Donald Trump’s racist propaganda and hate,” Portland school board Chair Emily Figdor said in an email. “It saddens me to see Trump’s culture war come to Portland’s doorstep. But it only makes me – and I believe the full school board – more determined to pass our historic equity budget on June 8th.

“Portland is a city that values public education, and now more than ever we need to come together to insist that kids marginalized by society get a quality education. We can no longer stand by as a city and allow kids of color, kids with disabilities, English Language Learners, and kids living in poverty to fall through the cracks. This budget will help enable all kids to thrive. I really encourage people get out and vote ‘yes’ early or on June 8th to pass the school budget.”

The budget, approved 7-1 by the school board, includes $2.9 million in equity investments that will go to the district’s Lau plan, which ensures the proper identification, programming and English language services for English language learner students; expansion of the existing pre-K program with two additional classrooms and transportation; the scaling up of curriculum and professional development in high school math and resources to support the development and curriculum in Wabanaki and Africana studies; enhanced special education services; and resources to implement a new harassment and discrimination policy, including the creation of a district ombudsman position.

It also would strengthen the district’s support for hiring and supporting a diverse workforce by establishing a human resources position to enhance recruitment of and provide support for educators of color; compensate staff appropriately for linguistic and identity-based work they perform; and create pathways to career development for diverse staff.

The city council voted 7-2 last month to approve the school budget and send it to voters. The council rejected an amendment that would have lowered the amount of money to be raised from taxes, with some members suggesting the district try to fund the new investments with federal coronavirus relief funds.


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