Presumpscot community on alert as Portland schools discuss cost cuts

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PORTLAND — School leaders have made it clear that the purpose behind a new Enrollment and Facility Study is to save money.

That’s what concerns people who fear their local school could be closed or students could be redistricted.

Supporters of Presumpscot Elementary School, in particular, are worried their school is one of the most vulnerable.

Members of the school’s Family Council are urging parents and residents of the Back Cove and East Deering neighborhoods to turn out for one of a series of community forums, scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15.

The goal behind the forums, which will be held in 12 neighborhoods over the course of the month, is to “get the public’s thoughts and ideas about where the district should look to identify efficiencies,” Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana said.

Along with the community forums, which began Tuesday at East End Community School, the School Department is also offering an online survey. The meeting schedule and the short questionnaire are both available at www.portlandschools.org through Oct. 31.

Botana said the idea is to use the results from the facilities review in formulating the 2020 fiscal year budget.

“No decisions have been made about closing or consolidating schools,” Botana said, “nor is it a foregone conclusion that we will do that.”

However, David Hopkinson, head of the Presumpscot Elementary School Family Council, said he is still concerned. The council issued a call on its Facebook page for people to turn out Oct. 15 and advocate for the school.

“This is our big opportunity to speak up and let the city know why we want to keep Presumpscot School open,” the post reads. “The important thing is to show up. It is the kind of situation where if you can only go to one meeting the whole year this is the one.”

In an interview, Hopkinson said decisions about what schools to close or what students to redistrict “cannot be based solely on cost. The most important piece to all of this is what is best for each student. It’s important to keep Presumpscot open as it is currently providing an excellent education to hundreds of students.”

Presumpscot school is working on “closing the education gap, especially with those that qualify for free or reduced lunch, (which) is a primary focus of this school district, and Presumpscot outperforms the district in both math and language,” he added.

“This is a revenue problem, not a spending problem,” Hopkinson said. “It is unacceptable to be in a position to talk about closing schools when this city is in the midst of an economic boom.”

For his part, Botana said he understands why the Presumpscot School community is especially worried about the results of the facilities study.

Closing the school was briefly discussed last spring and it’s been moved to the bottom of the list of four elementary schools to be renovated under a $64 million capital bond.

What Hopkinson said he most wants School Department leaders to understand is that “(our) school helps provide the identity of our community. People from all walks of life gather at this school for education and safe, fun community events.

“This community has worked long and hard to provide students with a fantastic, well-rounded education,” he said. “… It’s time for the School Board to finally, after 10-plus years, take this school off the feared closing and consolidation list.”

In addition to a review of how school buildings are used, the study will look at whether the School Department still needs a transportation shed at PATHS, the food services building on outer Riverside and the administration center at 353 Cumberland Ave., as well as the Portland Adult Education site the district now rents.

The hope is for the facilities study to be completed by the end of the year, followed by a review by the School Board in early 2019.

Although the idea is for the study to guide possible reductions in the overall budget, Botana said it’s too soon to tell whether that will ultimately be possible.

His primary hope throughout this process, he said, is for “people to be informed and stay engaged.”

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

Presumpscot Elementary School in Portland is an award-winning expeditionary learning school that the community fears could be on the chopping block under a new district-wide facilities study designed to save money.

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