Portland School Board takes up CBHS expansion, West School changes

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PORTLAND — Expanding the city’s expeditionary high school and refocusing programming at the district’s special education school are among the topics before the School Board this week.

The board was scheduled to take up two reports, among other items, in a workshop session on Tuesday.

One report outlines recommendations for expanding Casco Bay High School, the expeditionary school on Allen Avenue that serves about 275 students.

Another outlines proposed changes to the West School, which serves special education students on Douglass Street.

In addition to receiving information Tuesday night, board Chairwoman Kate Snyder said she hopes to get clear direction from the staff about what type of support they need from board and when they need it.

“I hope there is board consensus about what the next steps are,” Snyder said Tuesday morning.

The report recommends expanding CBHS enrollment over the next three years to 372 students. The group suggests beginning that growth by expanding the freshman and sophomore classes to 93 students each next fall.

The report says 6.2 teaching positions would also have to be added over the three-year period.

To accommodate more students, the group suggests expanding the school onto the third floor, space now used by the School Department’s Central Office.

Snyder said administrators would have to provide a plan to move their offices.

Ideally, the report says CBHS would operate as a stand-alone facility on the peninsula. But that option was not viable since it would cost about $500,000 to lease space downtown, and a new 50,000-square-foot building would cost more than $10 million.

The report does not recommend moving CBHS to Portland High School, because it would cost more than $100,000 and could “dilute both schools’ culture and effectiveness.”

It says that arrangement would not allow CBHS to take advantage of its partnership with the Portland Arts and Technology High School, which is also on Allen Avenue.

“Right now, the best option for expansion is clearly to grow right where we are and to build on what’s working,” the report said.

The report also acknowledged the difficulty in garnering support for an expansion to the high school, given the bleak budget outlook this year.

Last week, the superintendent kicked off the budget discussion by telling the board and residents that the district must account for a $6.1 million revenue shortfall.

While some residents in the past have complained that CBHS is diverting much-needed revenue from regular school programming, Snyder said she believes there is now widespread support for the school and its mission.

“Casco Bay is doing well,” Snyder said. “There is support for the size of the classes to grow, because they’re delivering good results, and families are happy, and students want to go there.”

The report indicates there are currently 30 students who live in the district waiting for spots at CBHS this year, which uses a lottery for admissions. The sophomore class is one student short of capacity, and the junior and senior classes are near capacity.

“Any recommendations about expansion are contingent on current CBHS trends continuing and in-district waiting lists for both grades 9 and 10 being 23 or higher,” the report said.

West School

Snyder said the proposal for the West School does not seem to be as advanced as the CBHS proposal.

Recommendations for the special education facility on Douglass Street include redoubled efforts to provide students with services in their neighborhood school, rather than at the central facility.

The first phase of the project would create capacity in the schools for this programming. For 2011-2012, the West School would be used for targeted interventions and initial 30-day assessments of students.

Service recommendations would then be provided to the students’ home schools.

The district would also seek to reduce the number of students sent out of district for services, now 55 students.

“This changes the past practice of placing students in out-of-district programs without first making a concerted effort to educate them in a less restrictive setting within the district,” the report said.

Long-term goals would create therapeutic-, adventure- and vocational-based curriculum for students.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net