Portland schools receive nearly $6M in federal grants

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PORTLAND — The School Department expects to receive $6 million in federal grants to begin the new school year.

The department announced last week that it expects to receive a $2.6 million grant from the $26 billion federal jobs bill recently approved by the U.S. Congress. The state received $39 million of the $10 billion earmarked for education.

Riverton Elementary School, meanwhile, was awarded a $3.4 million federal school improvement grant to help students struggling with reading and math.

Superintendent James C. Morse Sr. said the grants are a rare piece of good news when it comes to state and federal funding for education, which he expects to decline by $4 million next year.

Morse said the bulk of the $2.6 million jobs grant will likely be used next year to reduce layoffs throughout the school district. Last year, 45 jobs were slashed from the budget.

“It’s more encouraging for the next school year,” Morse said. “This will help us get through that gruesome loss of revenue.”

Some money, however, will be used this year to hire about six teachers to reduce elementary class sizes, some of which have as many as 27 students, Morse said. Additional funds will be used this year to address last-minute special education needs.

In addition to avoiding layoffs, the money may only be used to rehire staff, restore furlough days and other salary-related items for teachers, principals, librarians, food service workers, bus drivers and other school-level positions.

A formal plan for using the money will be presented to the School Committee in the early fall.

Riverton grant

Riverton Elementary School was one of only three schools statewide to receive a federal grant to implement school improvement projects.

Along with nine other schools, Riverton was identified by the state as a failing school because it did not make progress in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act for two consecutive years.

The nearly $3.4 million grant, to be administered over the next three years, will be used to fund professional development and extended learning opportunities for students, including after-school and summer programming, the School Department said in a press release.

“This grant will help our students improve their basic skills in reading and math,” Riverton Principal Nancy Kopack said. “They also will their ability to think critically, process information, use technology and make global connection.”

In addition to funding curriculum development and data analysis, the money will also be used to support project-based learning that involves students in the community, the release said. 

“The current testing and accountability measures used by the federal and state departments of education do not give us enough information about how our students are doing throughout the year,” Kopak said.

Morse complimented the efforts of Riverton’s staff, which drafted the grant over a three-month period last last spring to bring in research-driven programming the district could not have otherwise afforded.

“They did a really good job putting it together,” he said. “We’re pretty excited about the grant and we think it will have nothing but benefits for the children in that community.”  

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

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