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Teacher Contract, School Choice on Board Agenda

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Teacher Contract, School Choice on Board Agenda
Posted on 09/19/2019
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Several key issues will come before the Portland Board of Public Education at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 24. The Board will be asked to approve a new contract with the district’s teachers.The Board will also begin discussing the high school selection process and will hold a workshop on the district’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), including a plan to apply to the State Revolving Renovation Fund for needed school improvements.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in room 200 at Casco Bay High School.

The Board and the Portland Education Association, the union representing the district’s teachers, reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract in July. Teachers ratified the contract this month after returning to school, and now the Board will be asked to formally approve it. Details of the collective bargaining agreement won’t be publicly available until after the Board’s vote, but both sides have said the stability provided by the new contract will allow the district to focus on improving educational outcomes for students.

Also on the agenda will be a Board discussion about “high school choice,” the district’s high school selection process. The district has three high schools – Deering, Portland and Casco Bay – and students have the choice of which high school they want to attend, regardless of where they live in the district. This year the district experienced markedly lower enrollment at Deering as compared to Portland High School, making it difficult for the district to equitably allocate resources between the two schools.

Superintendent Xavier Botana said the Board discussion will include a look at the history of this practice, a presentation of various options available for alternative approaches to high school student placement and a determination of the next steps for this discussion.

The Board also will hold a workshop discussion on the district’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), including plans to apply to the State Revolving Renovation Fund for needed school improvements.

After a hiatus of a few years, the Maine Department of Education has issued a call for Revolving Renovation Fund projects. Applications are due Sept. 30 for projects that must be completed by July 1, 2021.

The fund provides loans to be paid back with 0 percent interest over five to 10 years and designates up to 30 percent of the loan be forgiven (i.e., given as a grant). The fund typically only approves projects designed to address high priority health, safety and compliance issues.

The district plans to ask for approximately $2 million in loans from the Revolving Renovation Fund for a total of six projects to address Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance issues at all three high schools, King and Moore middle schools and Riverton Elementary School.

The district also plans to request another $2 million for a variety of school improvement projects in the City’s fiscal year 2021 CIP budget, which would bring the district’s total borrowing requests up to $4 million.

However, the City Manager has told the district it has to balance any new debt with debt it is retiring, so the district can’t borrow more than $2.6 million. If the district is granted the Revolving Renovation loan money, it will only have to repay $1.4 million because 30 percent or $600,000 will be forgiven as a grant.  Still, that would just leave about $1.2 million the district could borrow to address the $2 million in CIP projects the district wants to request, meaning the district will have to prioritize which of those CIP projects should go forward.