A number of Portland parents criticized a plan Friday to reconfigure the city’s eight mainland elementary schools, questioning the educational benefits of a proposal that they say would be disruptive.

The proposal – to be discussed at a school board workshop at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Casco Bay High School – would reconfigure Portland’s eight elementary schools into four primary schools for students in pre-K through second grade and four intermediate schools for students in third through fifth grade.

The district could eliminate 11 to 13 classrooms and save $660,000 to $780,000 by cutting 11 to 13 teaching positions, school board member Emily Figdor said.

“I think this is a terrible idea,” said Crystal Gamet, a parent of three children, two of whom attend Presumpscot Elementary School. “Parents don’t want to have their kids separated by going to different schools all over the city.”

Portland schools Superintendent Xavier Botana did not respond to messages left Friday seeking comment. The district has said it faces a potential budget shortfall of $7 million to $8 million for the 2020-21 school year on a projected $123 million general fund budget, caused in part by a decrease in state aid.

In a news release Thursday, the district said benefits of the plan include “having an entire school use a primary or an intermediate instructional model, the district would be able to better focus instruction, curriculum and programming to continue to work toward its achievement and whole student goals.

“The reconfiguration also would further the district’s equity goal by making elementary schools more like the district’s secondary schools, with more balanced demographic makeup and diversity.”

Figdor said the idea is “absolutely worth considering,” but she wants to hear more about the proposal, and she acknowledges that the plan would cause major changes throughout the school district.

Under the reconfiguration, the primary schools (pre-K through second grade) would be Rowe, Lyseth, Ocean Avenue and East End, while the intermediate schools (grades 3-5) would be Reiche, Longfellow, Presumpscot and Riverton.

A representative for the teacher’s union pledged to work with district administrators to help find solutions.

“The PEA is always about what’s best for students,” Caroline Foster, president of the Portland Education Association, said in a statement to the Press Herald.

“Ideally, every impactful decision would be made based on research-based best practices without regard to financial limitations,” Foster continued. “Unfortunately, budgets are reality. If limited funding means we have to make cuts, then we use our professional training and experience to help district leadership evaluate the options. We’re still in the midst of that process.”

Gamet, the parent, said many families in the Presumpscot school area, located in the East Deering neighborhood, are lower income and have limited transportation, and so would be far less likely to volunteer in their school if it were located beyond walking distance. She said having children go to the same school for grades K-5 provides needed continuity within families and builds stronger bonds between the community and the school.

Mary Beth Nolt, who has two children attending Lyseth Elementary School, said the proposal would be “disruptive” and any changes to school configuration should be thoughtfully considered in a long-term plan, and not pushed onto the city in a “rash” decision.

Nolt, a teacher in Scarborough schools, said that teachers can more easily collaborate across different grades when they are in the same building. And with more parents split between two schools, Nolt said “we would lose some parent engagement.”

David Hopkinson, who has two children attending Presumpscot, said he is strongly opposed to the plan and he doesn’t see much educational value in it.

“Reconfiguration does nothing except cutting teachers,” he said.

Andy Schmidt, a parent of two Longfellow students, said he appreciates the financial challenge school administrators face with state aid declining, so he has an open mind. Schmidt said he hates to see teachers lose their jobs, but he likes how having larger geographic areas for each school would improve student diversity.

But he also understands that parents would be inconvenienced if they had elementary-aged children going to different schools, and it could cause logistical problems with busing.

In 2019, plans to consolidate two of the city’s three high schools and form a single junior high school were shelved after community opposition.

 

 

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