My kid’s school is falling apart and some Portland city councilors refuse to help

My kid’s school is falling apart and some Portland city councilors refuse to help

I’m a lifelong Portlander. I went to Reiche Elementary, King Middle, and Portland High. I love Portland and am grateful for the public education I received here, which has opened so many doors for me in life.

But today my seven-year-old son attends Reiche, and it’s clear our schools have fallen behind.

The reason isn’t the teachers or the students–we have an incredible school community. It’s because the school itself is overcrowded and depressingly outdated.

There have been no meaningful upgrades since I attended the school over 30 years ago. I remember when our schools were a sense of pride, not shame, in our community. That’s just not the case anymore. My husband and I often find ourselves defending our decision to send our son to Reiche to our many friends who have moved to surrounding towns like Yarmouth and Falmouth where the communities invest heavily in their schools.

Noise at Reiche is so bad that teachers have been forced to crowdsource donations to buy noise-cancelling headphones so kids can concentrate. Mechanical closets and hallways are routinely used for instruction. Temperatures in the building can be over 90 degrees in some parts of the school and in the low-60s in other parts.

But, it’s not just Reiche. Three other elementary schools–Lyseth, Longfellow, and Presumpscot–are in similarly bad shape. These are schools that have asbestos, aren’t ADA compliant, and have fire hazards due to blocked exits and lack of sprinklers. At Presumpscot, kids are taught in rusty trailers without running water, so that young kids are forced to put on their winter clothes and walk alone to the main building just to go to the bathroom.

Portlanders know this is not a new problem. Going door to door, one of the most common things you hear from people is, “How is it possible that this hasn’t been fixed yet?”

The reason this hasn’t been solved is because for 23 years our city leaders have stood in the way and passed the buck. And on Monday, March 20th, the city council once again fell one vote short of the 7 out of 9 supermajority needed to advance a bond to the voters.

On the table was a sensible, $64 million plan crafted from more than two years of exhaustive research and collaboration by the school board, PTOs, outside experts hired by the city, and a special ad hoc committee formed to create a consensus proposal.

Together they crafted a fiscally responsible plan that meets minimum standards for learning, safety, and equity at all four elementary schools, while preserving the chance for significant state money for our high schools–which city leadership has also neglected.

But on Monday, despite two-thirds of the council supporting this consensus plan, three councilors – Belinda Ray of the East End and at-large councilors Jill Duson and Nick Mavodones – voted against high-quality education and equity in our schools, stopping the bond from going out to the voters.

What’s their argument? They propose that we cut the two worst schools out of the bond, Longfellow and Reiche, and hope that maybe, if they’ve gotten bad enough, the state will finally pay for them. If the state rejects us again – for the fourth time – then they promise they’ll pass a bond to fund the remaining two schools after that.

Of course, this council can’t bind a future council to do anything, so it’s a hollow promise. And unfortunately, we’ve been hearing these same “just wait one more year” promises from Councilors Duson and Mavodones for years.

In fact, in 2013, the last time the school board put a bond before the council, Councilors Duson and Mavodones held two out of four seats on the Finance Committee. They could have worked with their colleagues to pass four schools, two schools, one school, anything.

Instead, they voted for zero schools, promising that if we waited just a little longer, they’d pass a bond in 2014. But here we are in 2017, still waiting. And they’re still saying “wait just one more year.”

Enough waiting. Duson and Mavodones’s plan to cut Reiche and Longfellow from the bond condemns our city’s worst two schools and their neighborhoods to years of uncertainty. And, the shocking part, it only saves the average homeowner $2 a month according to city staff estimates.

The people of Portland value education. Polling has found that more than 60% of voters support repairing these four schools. I believe that it was not happenstance that the two newest councilors, Pious Ali and Brian Batson, ran on platforms of strong support for the four-school bond and handily ousted incumbents who had publicly opposed the bond.

The ad hoc committee’s consensus plan is backed unanimously by the school board, more than 100 local small businesses, hundreds of people who have testified at public hearings, and two-thirds of the city council.

Mayor Ethan Strimling has pledged to keep bringing up the bond at every council meeting until it passes or is killed. I strongly believe the people of Portland deserve the right to finally vote on this important issue. Let us decide if this is an investment worthy of our tax dollars and of our community. I urge the three holdouts to finally let the voters vote.

About author

Bree LaCasse
Bree LaCasse 1 posts

Bree is a life-long Portlander, executive director of Friends of Congress Square Park, former board member for the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, former volunteer with the Maine for Obama Finance Committee, and co-author of the book Uninvested: How Wall Street Hijacks Your Money and How to Fight Back.

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