A proposal for a consolidated high school in Portland that also would include career and technical components, and possibly adult education, in one facility drew interest and questions from school board members and students Wednesday.

The concept is still in the early stages and lacks details, but the school district has asked the state for a deadline waiver so it can be considered for funding of school construction projects that integrate high schools with career and technical education. The Maine State Board of Education’s construction committee will take up the request later this month and decide whether to advance it to the full board.

The district is asking the state to consider Portland High School and the Portland Arts & Technology High School, or PATHS, for the project, since both those schools already are listed on the state’s major capital construction priority list. But the project could lead to a broader consolidation, with Deering High School and Portland Adult Education also being included in one state-funded facility.

“I very much support pursuing state funding to build a state-of-the-art high school in Portland that includes career and technical and adult education,” school board Chair Emily Figdor said in an email.

“However, the state has not funded a project like this before and has only renovated or rebuilt a handful of schools in the last decade. But I certainly hope the state grants our waiver and allows us to begin this conversation.”

If it’s successful, the proposal could bring big changes to Portland Public Schools. The district currently has three high schools, Portland, Deering and Casco Bay, in addition to PATHS, which is a career and technical education school that draws students from around the region. The district declined a request to speak with the principals of the high schools and the director of PATHS Wednesday, saying Superintendent Xavier Botana is serving as the district spokesperson on the proposal.

Several students outside the high schools said they hadn’t heard of the proposal and none expressed strong feelings for or against a consolidated school. The district announced news of the proposal in a newsletter last week and it was brought up by the superintendent at last week’s school board meeting.

“It’s kind of a cool idea, I guess, for all the kids to be together,” said Devin Walker, a freshman at Portland High. “In middle school there’s a bunch of friends and then they leave (for high school) and don’t see each other. So I think it might be an interesting idea.”

Devin Walker, a freshman at Portland High School, said there are pros and cons to a proposal to consolidate high schools in the city. On one hand, friends in middle school would have a better chance of continuing friendships at the same high school. On the other hand, there’s tremendous pride in the individual schools, Walker said. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

At the same time, Walker said many students also have strong allegiances to their schools. “I think people might be upset, actually,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of school spirit.”

Octavia Mimande, a freshman at Deering, said there are rivalries and even dislike between some students at the different high schools, which could be problematic in any consolidation proposal. At the same time, a consolidation could be a good way for students who have friends in other schools to reunite. “I think it would probably be a good idea because there are staff who could prevent fighting from happening,” Mimande said.

“I think it could be helpful because we have friend relationships at other different schools around here,” she added.

School board member Adam Burk said in an email Wednesday that there are many questions about the proposal and deciding whether to support it would depend on yet-to-be-worked-out details if the proposal ends up moving forward at the state level.

“I’m grateful that the superintendent, Councilor (Pious) Ali and others looked for creative opportunities to meet the educational needs of our time,” Burk said.

Burk said some parents are asking questions about things such as the proposed location for the new school, what would happen to the Portland and Deering buildings, and how the district would ensure that a larger school doesn’t create a more transactional and less personal experience for students.

“From there my questions go on,” Burk said. “What are the equity considerations in this context? How might a new integrated and consolidated school allow us to create opportunities we will never have within our current structure?”

In 2017, the Maine Department of Education put out a call for applications for innovative school construction projects that would integrate high schools with career and technical education, include collaboration with higher education and expand programming. The department has yet to build such a school, however, and two of the three projects on its approved construction list have either withdrawn or no longer qualify.

Most of the proposals have come from rural areas and Botana said this week that the Portland district wasn’t aware of the funding opportunity at the time it was announced by the state. He said it has become increasingly evident that it’s unlikely either Portland High or PATHS, which are ranked 15th and 25th respectively on the state’s major capital construction priority list, will get individual state funding anytime soon.

By proposing a consolidated high school that integrates career and technical education, Botana said the district could have access to a different state funding source and better chances of getting approved. “I would like to bring this to a public conversation about here’s an opportunity for us to look at having a state-of-the-art high school facility in Portland that is not paid for by Portland taxpayers but allows us to create a 21st century secondary and post-secondary experience for all our students,” he said.

Much depends on whether the state will approve Portland’s request. In a worst-case scenario, Botana said the discussion could serve the district in preparing for the state’s next cycle of school construction funding. Or he said the state could ask for more details, in which case it could take months before a formal proposal is ready.

“I can see a scenario where the state board says, ‘That’s interesting. Why don’t you take three months or six months and come back with a more detailed proposal,'” he said. “If we were at that place I would be extremely happy because that would give us the opportunity to come back with a proposal around what this would look like.”

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