Adult education backers seek relief from Portland school budget cuts

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PORTLAND — Single mothers, retirees and refugees were among the dozens of people who pleaded with the School Board Tuesday night to spare the city’s adult education program from cuts proposed in the 2012 school budget.

Several parents and teachers also warned School Board members about the ramifications of a proposal to eliminate the jobs of 38 education technicians.

The $92.7 million budget proposed by Superintendent of Schools James C. Morse Sr. includes eliminating 8.5 contracted teaching positions in Portland Adult Education and replacing them with instructors paid on an hourly basis, thus not having to pay salaried benefits. The estimated savings would be about $314,000.

About 150 people crowded into Room 250 at Casco Bay High School for the public hearing, many wearing stickers that said “I Am PAE” to show their support for adult ed. The stickers had additional information, including “I am a student,” “I am teacher,” and “I volunteer.”

Many of the people who asked the School Board to retain the current Adult Education programming were former students and refugees who learned English in adult education classes.

Claude Rwagauje started as a student and is now a financial literacy teacher in adult ed.

“The No. 1 challenge for refugees is the language barrier,” Rwagauje said. Adult ed gives the city’s new immigrants the opportunity to learn English, he said, which helps then enter the job market.

Jo Coyne, who retired from the Portland schools seven years ago, said she took advantage of a Web design class in adult ed and designed two Portland school websites as a result.

Pam Meader has been a math teacher with Portland Adult Education for 24 years. She said Tuesday that the program this year had more than 1,000 people working to gain their GED or get into college.

“Portland Adult Education is a full-time program,” she said. Classes begin at 9 a.m., she said, and don’t end until 9 p.m. She said the program demands contracted teachers.

“We are professionals,” she said.

Several people also addressed the board concerning the proposed ed tech cuts. The bulk of those positions, about 30, were federally funded and that funding is running out this year.

Parent Margaret Hazlett said her daughter, a student at East End Community School, is helped by an education technician. She said ed techs help English Language Learners and special needs students become a part of the school community.

“Cutting ed techs ostracizes students,” she said.

The teachers union also weighed in on proposed cuts. Portland Education Association President Kathleen Casasa urged the School Board to use “great caution” in making any special education cuts, saying that teachers are already worried about compliance issues.

Eighty-one positions within the School Department are proposed to be cut, although the impact is expected to be partially negated by retirements.

The schools are expecting to absorb a $6 million reduction in state and federal funding in fiscal 2012. Morse’s proposed budget is about $2.7 million larger than the current budget, and would increase property taxes by almost 4 percent.

Review of the proposed budget continues Thursday at 5 p.m. at Portland Arts and Technology High School. The School Board is scheduled to vote on a budget March 29 and present the proposal to the City Council April 4.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or