Scores of teachers turned out Tuesday to protest a proposal to expand the Portland school district’s pre-K program that would hold the classes in district schools but contract out the teaching to an outside social services agency, The Opportunity Alliance.

The Portland Education Association opposes that option, one of three being considered, because it means current district teachers would lose union representation and benefits, including access to state retirement benefits.

“It’s just not right,” PEA president Sue Olafsen said. “We see it as a violation of our collective bargaining rights.”

The proposal also would create a group of “second-class pre-K staff” within schools, Olafsen said, adding that the union supports expanding pre-K with Portland teachers in Portland schools. “We oppose any outside provider for pre-K classrooms within our schools.”

About 50 people attended the workshop on the proposals held by the school board’s curriculum committee. A crowd of teachers stood in the back of the room holding up signs, some saying “Quality counts!” and “Lyseth teachers for Portland pre-K.”

Another option being considered would expand pre-K in the schools and use all district teachers, while a third would expand the current model, providing pre-K with a mix of school and outside providers.

The curriculum committee will meet again next week to discuss the options and come up with a recommendation for the school board. Expanding pre-K is not guaranteed, and depends on whether the district has the money in the budget to expand the program.

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

Six classrooms are in schools (Riverton, Presumpscot, Rowe, East End and Peaks Island,) two classrooms are partnerships with private preschool providers (Catherine Morrill Day Nursery School and Youth and Family Outreach), and one classroom is in partnership with The Opportunity Alliance’s Head Start program, serving students in the Reiche school area.

The district’s goal is to expand Portland’s pre-K program by 140 students, or nine classrooms, over five years.

Under the second option, the current pre-K classrooms would be maintained, and all new pre-K classrooms would be in district classrooms taught by district employees. At full expansion, in five years, this option would cost an estimated $3.1 million.

Under the third option, the district would expand the current model, adding five new pre-K classrooms in the schools, taught by district staff, and add four new classrooms with partners. At full expansion, this option would cost an estimated $3 million.

Under the first option, the district would continue to house the pre-K programs in school buildings as space allows, but would contract out all teachers and employees to partner agencies. At full expansion, this option would cost an estimated $2.4 million.

Several teachers told the committee they supported expanding the existing model.

Transportation costs are not included in any of the cost estimates, and would add up to $50,000 to retrofit buses or as much as $300,000 to purchase new buses.

The proposal to expand pre-K, affirmed late last year by the Portland School Board, comes amid widespread interest in investing in early childhood education. Studies repeatedly show that children in early education programs are more likely to finish their educations, avoid the criminal justice system, hold good jobs and have stable families.

But results can vary widely, and to be effective pre-K programs must be high-quality and include rigorous, regular evaluations to ensure effectiveness.

Early childhood education is one of the top education priorities of new Gov. Janet Mills, despite a hefty cost in the range of $40 million per year and questions about whether all schools have the space to house that many 4-year-olds.

Under the Portland proposals, all pre-K classrooms and instructors whether in schools or at partner sites, would meet state early learning standards and be accredited. All options would be for a full school day, with before and after care.

Despite broad agreement on the merits of early education, Maine has no mandate for it and only a handful of districts offer truly universal pre-K – open to any 4-year-old in the district who wants to attend.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine


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