State of Portland schools is improving, chairwoman says

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PORTLAND — School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione praised academic improvements students are making, and touched on the need for increased state funding for education, in the annual State of the Schools address Monday.

In remarks to the City Council, Morrione said that of the approximately 6,800 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, more than half receive free or reduced lunch. She said nearly 2,300 students come from homes where English is not the first language and there are a total of 60 different languages spoken in the district.

Morrione said from pre-kindergarten through adult education programs, Portland Public Schools serves roughly 11,000 students, or “one in six Portlanders.”

She said there have been “significant gains” for African American and economoically disadvanted students and some important gains in English Language Learner students in lower grades in reading and math.

According to four-year results from the Northwest Evaluation Association, the percentage of black students and economically disadvantaged students in grades three, five and eight who scored proficient or better on the NWEA exams for reading and mathematics improved over a four year period.

For example, the number of black students in third grade who scored proficient or above on the test rose from roughly 6 percent in the 2012-2013 school year, to just over 24 percent last year. For reading, those numbers rose from less than 15 percent in 2012-2013 to almost 29 percent last year.

Morrione more than 30 percent of juniors and seniors enrolled in AP courses last year, and a majority of those scored a three or better on their AP tests, where the best score a student can get is a four.

Students are making progress in math in grades three and eight, she said, although the NWEA assessment showed math scoring of proficient or higher in grade five remains unchanged from past years.

“Portland is an amazing city with a strong commitment to improving outcomes for students, and we are better when we work together,” Morrione said.

Morrione also spoke about the board and district’s efforts to improve parent and community engagement, highlighting the Parent Partnership Policy Ad Hoc Committee, which was established to review and revise the existing parent involvement policy to create more engagement. She also spoke about the Public Affairs Committee, which meets quarterly with the public to increase the public’s engagement with the board.

She thanked the council and public for their support of the $103.6 million school department budget for fiscal year 2017, saying it “puts students first, values our employees and respects tax payers.”

Speaking about facing reduced education funding from the state, Morrione highlighted the board’s endorsement of the “Stand up for Students” citizen initiative, Question 2 on the Nov. 8 state ballot, which which would establish a 3 percent tax on household incomes of more than $200,000 to fund education. She said this would generate an estimated $157 million for state education.

“Portland stands to receive approximately $11 million in additional state aid that is desperately needed,” Morrione said.

She thanked voters for supporting the April referendum which called for a nearly $30 million plan to replace the aging Fred P. Hall Elementary School on Orono Road, saying the hope is it will be open by fall of 2018.

But she added Hall was only one part of a large facilities plan, called Buildings for Our Future, which outlines major renovations at Longfellow, Reiche, Presumpscot and Lyseth elementary schools. The board voted to recommend a $70.6 million bond proposal to the City Council earlier this year, and an ad hoc committee of councilors and board members was established.

Morrione said this committee, after touring all four schools, is set to send a recommendation back to the board in November.

“All our children and adult learners deserve the best we can offer,” Morrione said.

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

Portland School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione delivers the State of the Schools address Oct. 17 in City Council Chambers, while Mayor Ethan Strimling looks on.

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