I read with dismay Jake Bleiberg’s June 24th story in the Bangor Daily News about the poor condition of four of Portland’s elementary schools – Presumpscot, Longfellow, Reiche and Lyseth – and about unsuccessful efforts dating back two decades to have the schools renovated.
The article describes some serious problems – no space for Special Education classes, leaking roofs, overcrowded classrooms, and temporary mobile trailers standing in for permanent classrooms. Any teacher will tell you that the kinds of problems Bleiberg details invariably have a negative effect on student learning outcomes.
In a state with a declining population and a preponderance of elderly residents, and a world where picking up a family and moving to another state is a viable option, we need to provide excellent schools if we are going to attract and keep families in Maine. Outstanding academic programming, high-quality professional development for teachers, Art and Music and Language programming, competitive salaries for teachers, appropriate facilities – we should make sure all schools in Maine offer these ingredients.
Unfortunately, at the present time only some schools offer the ingredients that combine to make excellent schools. State-wide, we have some districts that offer high-level professional development for teachers and others that do not; some schools that boast college-worthy performance spaces, while most do not; some whose primary-aged children are busily learning World Languages while others offer none; some districts where teachers are paid $10,000 more annually than in others; some schools where high school students can choose from a dozen advanced placement courses and others that offer none at all. We also have four elementary schools in Portland that have waited two decades for renovations.
Portland city councilor Justin Costa sensibly explains that the longer the wait for renovations, the more those renovations are likely to cost. He also points to a different kind of risk – the potential loss of families who don’t perceive the schools as adequate for their children’s needs. I would argue that for the good of our communities, on a state-wide basis we should prioritize providing an adequate, equitable education for all.