Portland public school officials plan to significantly scale back summer programs because of financial pressures facing the district.

A proposed 2023-24 budget released this week calls for spending $900,000 on summer programming, a reduction of more than two-thirds from the almost $3 million allocated in the current budget. The reduction would affect day camps and academic classes this summer.

Last summer, in part because of the availability of pandemic relief funds, the Portland school district ran a robust summer program that served 2,515 students. The district offered literacy and math programs, tutoring, opportunities for English language learners to improve their skills and paid for students to attend private summer camps.

But this year, financial challenges will lead to drastically reduced summer opportunities for Portland students unless the school board restores funding to the proposed budget. Inflation, salary increases for many employees and rising costs to support its students are all squeezing the district, which is also facing a decrease in state funding and a dwindling pot of one-time federal COVID relief money that was used to pay for increased summer programming over the past two years.

Summer school for special education students, which the district is legally required to provide and is paid for out of the special education budget, will continue as usual, the district said.

Despite the big drop in funding and reduction in services, the proposed budget for summer programs is still greater than it was before the pandemic, when the district spent closer to $300,000 on summer school. Some feared the cutbacks this summer would be even greater based on the financial pressures facing the district as COVID funding runs out.


“I’m actually thrilled that in this tough budget year we’re going to have $900,000,” said Matt Dubel, the executive director of Portland ConnectED, an organization that helps youth programs collaborate with each other and schools to provide extracurricular opportunities for students.

Last summer, the district provided both in-house programs and worked with community-based programs to send students to private summer camps run by local organizations. About 1,900 students attended district and school programs, and 650 students participated in programs run by community partners.

Serving so many students was a significant undertaking for the district, requiring the support of almost 450 teachers, administrators and staff to run in-house programs and coordinate with community partners.

“Running summer school is akin to running school in general,” said co-interim Superintendent Melea Nalli. “We have to plan programming, recruit, hire, onboard and pay people. We need facilities, transportation and food. It requires nursing, administration, social work, family outreach, interpretation services and, of course, instructional planning and delivery.”

Nalli said it has been challenging for the district to plan for summer school while managing the regular school year, especially when it has been relying so heavily on the district’s staff, many of whom are burnt out.

This summer, the district plans to drop its in-house summer programs for elementary and middle school students, which are largely academic focused.  It will instead use its available resources to send students to tutoring organizations and community partners that run summer camps that teach students how to surf, sail, write, build robots and more.


“We did have success with community partners and we’d like to lean deeper into that strategy as our resources will allow,” Nalli said.

The district plans to continue to run its program for high schoolers to make up credits and classes, continue to offer classes for multilingual learners to work on their English and prioritize homeless students.

Opportunities for kids to spend time in informal learning environments over the summer helps them avoid regression over the out-of-school months, and build resilience, social skills and academic savvy, experts say.

“Students gain important skills that they can use in later life,” said Erik Peterson, senior vice president of policy for the Afterschool Alliance.

No- or low-cost summer programs are particularly important for low-income students, said Peterson and others.

Low-income students have less access to enriching activities in the summer compared to students from higher-income families, said Dubel, with Portland ConnectEd.

Dubel said removing barriers to summer programs for low-income students allows them to maintain academic gains made during the school year and to connect with caring adults outside of their home and create connections to the community.

“We are so lucky in this community to have such a wealth of amazing community organizations,” Dubel said. “Portland is a hub for the outdoors, the arts and STEM organizations. Students have not had equal access to these amazing resources, and enabling students who may not have had certain experiences before to be able to get out in the community and learn new things is very important.”

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