Portland elementary school times in play, but not high schools

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PORTLAND — The School Board may reconsider new start and end times for the city’s elementary schools, after hearing feedback from the public.

School Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson said while there have been two public hearings on the start and end times for the schools, most of the conversation had been about the high schools.

It wasn’t until after a March 31 meeting, when the board voted on new schedules for all the schools, that Thompson said she started hearing from elementary school parents.

“Because we felt there was such a large amount of elementary school parents who weren’t aware of the changes, (Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk) and I talked and decided to put this together, and we looked at what we could tweak,” Thompson said.

Under the original proposal, there were two groups of elementary schools with different start times. The first group – East End, Longfellow, Lyseth, and Presumpscot – would have been in session from 7:45 a.m-2:15 p.m. Hall, Riverton, Ocean Avenue, and Reiche would have gone from 8:05 a.m.-2:35 p.m.

Under a revised proposal, group one will be made up of East End, Riverton, Ocean Avenue, and Reiche, and will go from 8:05 a.m-2:35 p.m. The remaining schools will go from 8: 55 a.m.-3:25 p.m.

Thompson said the issue is transportation: There aren’t enough buses in the fleet to get all the students to school at the same time, an issue being addressed in the high schools by a proposal to have older students ride Metro buses.

“I think people think it’s a little simplistic, some think everyone can start at the same time, but it’s not that simplistic,” Thompson said. “Had we had a bigger fleet (of buses) or more drivers that’s one thing, but to be cost neutral we have the fleet we have.”

The School Board was scheduled to hold a public hearing Tuesday night to gauge support for the possible revisions. Thompson said from conversations she has had with other board members, there appears to be an inclination to support the 8:55 a.m. start time for the four schools.

New schedules for the high schools and middle schools, which the board approved last week, will not be discussed again, Thompson said.

Particularly for the high schools, however, there has been some debate on how a later start or longer days would affect island residents.

“We shouldn’t put in place a schedule all our students can’t meet, and with the schedule currently proposed it is unlikely students from Cliff Island at Casco Bay High School are going to be able to reliably make a 2:45 boat (to the island),” board member Laurie Davis said Monday.

Originally, the board had intended to change the schedule for Portland High School, Deering High School and Casco Bay High School to 8:35 a.m.-3:05 p.m., so that students could sleep later. Davis, a former Peaks Island resident, said this wouldn’t have worked out for island students trying to make it home.

“It was giving mainland students the ability to sleep in, but it was lengthening the day for island neighborhoods,” she said. “The revamp is certainly better; it eliminated issues for Peaks Island residents since they can make the 3:15 boat.”

She said the new schedule, 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m., isn’t that much better. She said Peaks Island students at Portland High School can still walk to the Casco Bay Lines terminal to catch a 3:15 ferry. But for Cliff Island students at CBHS, there is no guarantee they’ll make the 2:45 ferry.

“This is singling out a neighborhood in Portland and treating them differently, and that’s simply wrong,” Davis said.

Thompson said the School Department will provide transportation besides Metro to the CBHS students who need to get to the ferry terminal. She said while this isn’t a perfect fix, it is quicker than waiting for the Metro bus.

“It will be tight, but we will do our best so they make that boat. We can’t guarantee (they’ll make it on time), but we will certainly try,” Thompson said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.