Emotions, dispute over process slow Portland school building panel

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PORTLAND — While all those involved seem to agree it’s important to move on and set aside differences, the appointments process for the School Board’s new Building Committee has been controversial and emotional.

The latest kerfuffle occurred when School Board member Marnie Morrione walked out of a Feb. 6 workshop.

Morrione left following renewed debate over the six, at-large citizen members of the Building Committee, which will have oversight of the $64 million, four-school renovation project voters approved last November.

In mid-January, the School Board appointed City Councilor Belinda Ray to the Building Committee over the objections of the grassroots group that promoted the school construction bond.

School Board Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow nominated Ray and Councilor Justin Costa from a group of five submitted to her by the City Council for consideration.

Ray’s appointment was opposed by members of Protect Our Neighborhood Schools and others because she did not initially support the bond, which will provide significant upgrades to Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche schools.

Morrione was also not in favor of Ray’s appointment, although she was out of the country when the vote took place at the School Board’s Jan. 16 meeting.

She left last week’s workshop, which was held immediately after the board’s regular business meeting, because, she said, “I was so emotional and I was raising my voice and I realized I could not be productive and professional.”

Morrione apologized for her actions Monday and said it was the first time she’d ever felt compelled to leave a meeting before it had concluded.

“I’ve been on the School Board for 10 years and I’ve never been so upset by the process,” she said.

Her concern and frustration, Morrione said, resulted from the proposed at-large citizen appointments to the Building Committee being moved from the board’s official agenda to a workshop.

“My question was: ‘Why was it pulled from the agenda?’,” she said.

Morrione said her concern was not in any way related to the individuals being proposed for service on the Building Committee, but about the process.

She is a member of the School Board Appointments Committee and said the committee had already met twice to review the slate of citizen candidates who want to serve on the Building Committee.

But last week, School Board member Laurie Davis was adamant that the Appointments Committee had not followed the procedure laid out by the School Board when it first discussed what membership on the Building Committee should look like.

Davis argued in mid-December that the Building Committee should have at-large membership, with no particular school affiliations, so that all taxpayers would have a voice.

The goal, she said, and the majority agreed, should be to ensure there’s opportunity for broad public input and engagement in the elementary school construction process.

But when the Appointments Committee made its recommendations to Trevorrow, it did include specific school affiliations, which Davis said violated the process the School Board had initially agreed to follow.

This week Morrione said those names will go back to the Appointments Committee and the school affiliations will be removed. The hope now is for the School Board to hold a final vote on the citizen members of the Building Committee at its Feb. 27 meeting.

Morrione said she was never in favor of not specifically recruiting residents from the various school communities to serve on the Building Committee because so many people in those neighborhoods had worked so “hard over the years to get to this point.”

But this week she said what’s important now is to “move forward collectively and to work by majority. There are a lot of positives here. My biggest wish is just to get moving on the (school renovations). We have a lot to do.”

“I want to get the personalities out of the way,” she added. “Let’s just get back to work and concentrate first and foremost on what’s best for the students.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

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