The Maine State Board of Education has denied Portland Public Schools’ request to apply for state funding to build a consolidated high school.

The board voted 6-0 Wednesday to deny the district’s request to be considered, despite missing the application deadline, for the Integrated, Consolidated 9-16 Educational Facility construction priority list. Board members made their decision after hearing Superintendent Xavier Botana’s proposal for a new high school integrating traditional 9-12 education with career and technical, and adult education on one campus.

Board Chair Fern Desjardins said that while she supports such efforts, “I do see some concerns with this proposal.”

The deadline to apply for the state funding was May 1, 2017, and Desjardins said granting Portland a waiver to apply late would be unfair to other school districts. She also raised questions about whether Portland’s proposal, if it were considered, would meet the criteria for the funding, given that it doesn’t involve other districts.

The list is comprised of construction projects that integrate high schools in one facility with career and technical education, higher education and industry training. In the past, most project proposals have come from rural areas where neighboring districts have sought to combine high schools. Two approved projects that crossed district lines were deemed to no longer qualify because some participants withdrew.

“If we were to allow this project to move forward, I would have to look back at the list and the two projects we took off because they lost partners along the way,” Desjardins said.

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Portland asked for the deadline waiver late last year. Botana said the district came to realize it was unlikely that two of its schools, Portland High School and the Portland Arts & Technology High School, which are currently on the state’s major capital construction priority list, would be approved for funding anytime soon. That list contains more than 70 school projects for individual state-funded construction, and only five have been approved since 2017-2018.

Combining the projects and moving them to the list for consolidated projects offered a better chance at timely funding, as well as an opportunity to bring in other programs, like adult education, and create a new type of school. The consolidated projects list has only seven projects, three of which have been approved. Only one of the approved projects is still considered active.

While the district’s proposal hadn’t yet been thoroughly developed, Botana spoke of his vision for bringing together the city’s two largest high schools, Portland and Deering, in a space shared with career and technical, and adult education. “Granting our request allows you to provide opportunities for thousands of diverse students in what is the economic engine of the state,” Botana told the board before the vote.

The state anticipates opening another application cycle for integrated, consolidated high school projects this spring.

If that happens, Botana said, the district will work with the Board of Education and other stakeholders, including university and business partners, neighboring districts, staff, students and families to develop a proposal that meets the requirements.

“There was universal recognition that we have a great need and a compelling vision, so I am anxious to have the opportunity to advance this work,” he said in an email after Wednesday’s meeting. “I am also very confident that if we are given this chance, we will have a highly rated proposal.”

Botana said the district is not considering any other ways to get a new high school built.

Board members urged the district to reapply for the construction funding when the state is again accepting applications. Desjardins told Botana that she has gotten requests from other school districts that are also interested in integrated projects. She said the state needs to make those projects happen.

“What you’ve done has not been a waste of time,” she told him. “It’s opened our eyes and ears to what needs to happen and it’s going to push us … with future discussions that will help Portland Public Schools and other schools throughout Maine.”

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