Petition for Portland school construction greets new board

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PORTLAND — Roberto Rodriguez will become the new School Board chairman after a Dec. 3 inauguration ceremony at City Hall.

One of the first things he and his board colleagues may have to deal with is concern from some parents who believe the School Department may not follow through on plans to renovate four elementary schools.

Rodriguez, 39, was elected to the board two years ago as an at-large member. His daughter is a fifth-grader at Lyseth Elementary School.

He was chosen to lead the School Board for the next year during an informal caucus during the board’s Nov. 13 meeting. He will succeed Anna Trevorrow, who  has held the post for the past two years.

While Rodriguez said he expects the next year to be “very challenging,” particularly with another large reduction in state aid to education and an ongoing Enrollment and Facility Study, he also said he is “incredibly optimistic … it’s all about doing the work needed to move the board forward.”

In addition to appointing Rodriguez chairman, the School Board is also welcoming two newcomers: Emily Figdor, representing District 2, and Abusana “Micky” Bondo, in District 1. Long-term member Sarah Thompson is also returning for a fifth term.

Rodriguez said he has learned a lot and built  key relationships with other board members.

What he’s most proud of over the past two years, he said, is the adoption of the a new strategic plan, called the Portland Promise, which looks at all school functions and policies through the lens of four goals: achievement, equity, the whole student and people.

He said the two most important goals are equity and the whole student, which he said “requires a unique perspective to understand and navigate.” And, as the only Latino on the board, he can see things through that “different lens.”

When he was first elected, Rodriguez admitted, he was mostly concerned with the attacks on communities of color that have become ever more vocal under President Donald Trump.

“I really felt then that my voice needed to be heard and that I needed a platform,” he said.

Now, Rodriguez said, he’s more concerned with being collaborative and getting input from the community about what’s important to them and what their priorities and concerns are for the schools.

“I 100 percent encourage every school community to advocate for what it values,” he said, particularly when it comes to the facilities study, which is causing concern in some parts of the city.

Members of the Presumpscot Elementary School community are particularly worried about the fate of their neighborhood school, and the grassroots advocacy group Protect Our Neighborhood Schools is circulating a petition calling on the School Board to commit to renovating and updating all four elementary schools that were part of a $64 million capital bond approved in November 2017.

The four schools scheduled for renovation are Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche. Groundbreaking is expected on the Lyseth project in early 2019.

The petition was created, the group said on its Facebook page, because under the study, “public officials are now saying all four schools may not be renovated after all, and school closure is up for discussion.”

Protect Our Neighborhood Schools said parents of students at Presumpscot Elementary School “are leading the way (and) Longfellow parents are right behind them.”

When it comes to the school budget, Rodriguez believes a lot was learned during last year’s contentious process.

This time around, he said, the School Board will do its best to be “coherent, consistent, and transparent” while having an “open dialogue and open communication” about what’s needed to run the schools.

Mostly, Rodriguez said, “I’m all about doing the work.”

“The attitude I bring is a worker’s mentality and that’s what I hope others are willing to bring to the table. We all have our own personal beliefs and we won’t agree on everything all the time, but we also need to respect that there’s work to do.”

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

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