PORTLAND — Although the Portland School Committee on April 7 unanimously approved a new schedule for the city’s four high schools, students will have to wait until the end of the month to find out courses that will be offered.
Superintendent of Schools James C. Morse Sr. said administrators had hoped to finalize the schedule in time for class registration, which started in February. After several delays, however, students may have to adjust their schedules when about a dozen district-wide classes are added after April vacation.
The committee also tabled a proposal to add two high school co-curricular directors to the Portland Administrator’s Association bargaining unit, because of uncertainty about how the designation would impact a current employee who is not certified.
The new high school schedule, which will take effect next school year, would add a short first period, running from 7:15- 8:10 a.m., while pushing the regular school start time to 8:15 a.m.
Morse said the early period would likely be used for low-enrolled classes, by students requiring extra help, or English Language Learners seeking to speed their integration into regular classrooms.
The schools would maintain their schedules throughout the day, but an additional period will be added from 1:05-2:25 p.m. for advanced foreign language classes and sciences.
The changes will also affect the start times of the city’s middle and elementary schools, Morse said, because of the logistics surrounding transportation.
The middle school start time will be pushed back from 8:15 a.m. to 8:25 a.m., while the elementary school day will start at 8:50 a.m. rather than 8:40 a.m..
Beyond the new schedule, most School Committee members were more excited about a condition of approval championed by School Committee Jaimey Caron.
That condition requires administrators to compile baseline data about class offerings, sizes and costs under the current schedule, so the committee can appropriately evaluate whether the new schedule works.
The goal is greater numbers for low-enrolled courses, better utilized district resources and expanded offerings to more students.
“I worried this will go down the road a bit and we will lose focus and it will be come like the schedule we have now, which isn’t working for us,” Caron said. “This is data we should be collecting as a routine.”
After Casco Bay High School Principal Derek Pierce predicted that the number of students who fully take advantage of the new schedule would likely be small during the first year, committee member Jenna Vendil cautioned the board not to judge the schedule’s success during the first year.
“Next year, when we look at these numbers and it may not be what we wanted to see doesn’t mean it’s a failure,” she said. “It means some things take time to become successful.”
Committee member Kate Snyder said she hoped requiring baseline data for the high school schedule would set a precedent in the district.
“I have had a hard time feeling like I can make informed decisions regarding policy because we have so little reliable data,” she said.
In other business, the committee voted 5-3 to table action on a plan to include two high school co-curricular directors in the Portland Administrators Association bargaining unit – a proposal that has been around for more than two years.
Morse said the Maine Labor Relations Board typically considers athletic and co-curricular directors as administrators, since they must manage programs and evaluate coaches.
“If the School Committee chooses not to voluntarily recognize the athletic directors, I suspect the PAA will just petition the Maine Labor Relations Board,” Morse said.
Morse said the directors would make up their own impact unit within the PAA and would negotiate their own contract, salaries and working conditions.
“I see no reason why we shouldn’t move on this,” committee member Justin Costa said. “I’ve been a strong supporter of worker’s rights and their ability to unionize.”
Although a contract with job descriptions has yet to be negotiated, the PAA has proposed a 17 percent, or nearly $12,000, increase in the two annual salaries to $80,900.
PAA President Steve Rogers said that, in order for directors to become members of the union, they must be state-certified administrators – a process that can take up to three years to complete. If not certified, directors could seek a waiver.
Since one of the two directors is not currently certified, the committee tabled a vote, because they were concerned that person could lose their job.
Other members, meanwhile, were worried that giving those employees bargaining rights would hamper efforts to restructure athletic and other co-curricular activities, both of which are expected to be evaluated over the year.
A final vote is scheduled for May 5.
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