Friday, April 11, 2008

Press Herald

Controversy over city school highlights need for planning
'People are ready' to discuss managing facilities at a time when enrollment is falling, a school board member says.

By TOM BELL, Staff Writer April 12, 2008


On the surface, this week's political drama over a proposal to build a new elementary school in Portland accomplished nothing except a lot of heated accusations and angry e-mail.

But School Committee member Kate Snyder said the controversy brought attention to a complicated and politically explosive issue -- the need to create a long-term plan for managing the school district's aging buildings at a time when enrollments are declining and budgets are tight.

"The conversation has been started in a big way," she said. "And I think people are ready to talk about that stuff. People are more galvanized. They are saying, 'OK, let's do some true facilities planning.'"

The controversy erupted Monday when three city councilors -- Kevin Donoghue, David Marshall and Mayor Ed Suslovic -- unexpectedly killed a measure to allow a plan for a new school on Ocean Avenue to go to referendum June 10.

The state has agreed to provide nearly $20 million for the project. When the school is completed, school officials plan to close the century-old Clifford Elementary School on Falmouth Street.

Donoghue, Marshall and Suslovic argued that the city should not replace the Clifford school with a significantly larger facility without having a plan in place to close an additional elementary school. During the days following the vote, the three councilors were inundated with e-mail and phone calls. They were also sharply criticized by other councilors, school officials and state officials.

On Thursday, the three councilors issued a press release saying that they will change their votes because members of the School Committee had assured them "that they are equally committed to completing an elementary facilities plan in the very near future."

Donoghue, Marshall and Suslovic will ask the council to reconsider the matter and vote again April 28.

Suslovic on Friday declined an interview, saying it would be better for the city if officials put the controversy behind them.

Donoghue did not return phone messages. He had previously said he would reconsider his vote if he got a commitment from school officials to close and consolidate an additional elementary school. The new Ocean Avenue school would serve 440 students; Clifford has 270 students.

Marshall said he still believes that building a new school would be a bad deal for the city unless officials at that same time spell out a consolidation plan.

He agreed to change his vote, he said, only because it became apparent that even opponents of the new school want to decide the issue at the ballot box.

"When it comes down to it, the voters want to have their say on this," he said. "I voted my conscience the other night. I still have deep regrets about where we are at."

He added, "For me, this battle isn't over. It just goes to the polls next."

School Committee Chairman John Coyne said the committee hasn't changed its views. The board still plans to wait until the new school is built, in 2011, to make any decision about whether to close another school.

He said elementary school enrollments west of Interstate 295 are holding steady and that all are near capacity.

Before making a decision to close a school, he said, it makes sense to wait until after the new school is ready and examine the latest enrollment and demographic trends.

The School Committee began working on a facilities plan in January and expects to finish the work sometime this fall, said School Committee member Jaimey Caron. The plan looks at all school district buildings, not just elementary schools.

The timetable has not changed over the past week, and neither has the School Committee's commitment to good planning, Coyne said.

The only thing that has changed, he said, is that some council members now better understand the School Committee's commitment to the process.

This week's controversy Controversy over city school highlights need for planning
'People are ready' to discuss managing facilities at a time when enrollment is falling, a school board member says.

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By TOM BELL, Staff Writer April 12, 2008


On the surface, this week's political drama over a proposal to build a new elementary school in Portland accomplished nothing except a lot of heated accusations and angry e-mail.

But School Committee member Kate Snyder said the controversy brought attention to a complicated and politically explosive issue -- the need to create a long-term plan for managing the school district's aging buildings at a time when enrollments are declining and budgets are tight.

"The conversation has been started in a big way," she said. "And I think people are ready to talk about that stuff. People are more galvanized. They are saying, 'OK, let's do some true facilities planning.'"

The controversy erupted Monday when three city councilors -- Kevin Donoghue, David Marshall and Mayor Ed Suslovic -- unexpectedly killed a measure to allow a plan for a new school on Ocean Avenue to go to referendum June 10.

The state has agreed to provide nearly $20 million for the project. When the school is completed, school officials plan to close the century-old Clifford Elementary School on Falmouth Street.

Donoghue, Marshall and Suslovic argued that the city should not replace the Clifford school with a significantly larger facility without having a plan in place to close an additional elementary school. During the days following the vote, the three councilors were inundated with e-mail and phone calls. They were also sharply criticized by other councilors, school officials and state officials.

On Thursday, the three councilors issued a press release saying that they will change their votes because members of the School Committee had assured them "that they are equally committed to completing an elementary facilities plan in the very near future."

Donoghue, Marshall and Suslovic will ask the council to reconsider the matter and vote again April 28.

Suslovic on Friday declined an interview, saying it would be better for the city if officials put the controversy behind them.

Donoghue did not return phone messages. He had previously said he would reconsider his vote if he got a commitment from school officials to close and consolidate an additional elementary school. The new Ocean Avenue school would serve 440 students; Clifford has 270 students.

Marshall said he still believes that building a new school would be a bad deal for the city unless officials at that same time spell out a consolidation plan.

He agreed to change his vote, he said, only because it became apparent that even opponents of the new school want to decide the issue at the ballot box.

"When it comes down to it, the voters want to have their say on this," he said. "I voted my conscience the other night. I still have deep regrets about where we are at."

He added, "For me, this battle isn't over. It just goes to the polls next."

School Committee Chairman John Coyne said the committee hasn't changed its views. The board still plans to wait until the new school is built, in 2011, to make any decision about whether to close another school.

He said elementary school enrollments west of Interstate 295 are holding steady and that all are near capacity.

Before making a decision to close a school, he said, it makes sense to wait until after the new school is ready and examine the latest enrollment and demographic trends.

The School Committee began working on a facilities plan in January and expects to finish the work sometime this fall, said School Committee member Jaimey Caron. The plan looks at all school district buildings, not just elementary schools.

The timetable has not changed over the past week, and neither has the School Committee's commitment to good planning, Coyne said.

The only thing that has changed, he said, is that some council members now better understand the School Committee's commitment to the process.

This week's controversy...Controversy over city school highlights need for planning
'People are ready' to discuss managing facilities at a time when enrollment is falling, a school board member says.

Bookmark & share: digg del.icio.us Reddit
Printer-friendly version E-mail this page Reader Comments
By TOM BELL, Staff Writer April 12, 2008


On the surface, this week's political drama over a proposal to build a new elementary school in Portland accomplished nothing except a lot of heated accusations and angry e-mail.

But School Committee member Kate Snyder said the controversy brought attention to a complicated and politically explosive issue -- the need to create a long-term plan for managing the school district's aging buildings at a time when enrollments are declining and budgets are tight.

"The conversation has been started in a big way," she said. "And I think people are ready to talk about that stuff. People are more galvanized. They are saying, 'OK, let's do some true facilities planning.'"

The controversy erupted Monday when three city councilors -- Kevin Donoghue, David Marshall and Mayor Ed Suslovic -- unexpectedly killed a measure to allow a plan for a new school on Ocean Avenue to go to referendum June 10.

The state has agreed to provide nearly $20 million for the project. When the school is completed, school officials plan to close the century-old Clifford Elementary School on Falmouth Street.

Donoghue, Marshall and Suslovic argued that the city should not replace the Clifford school with a significantly larger facility without having a plan in place to close an additional elementary school. During the days following the vote, the three councilors were inundated with e-mail and phone calls. They were also sharply criticized by other councilors, school officials and state officials.

On Thursday, the three councilors issued a press release saying that they will change their votes because members of the School Committee had assured them "that they are equally committed to completing an elementary facilities plan in the very near future."

Donoghue, Marshall and Suslovic will ask the council to reconsider the matter and vote again April 28.

Suslovic on Friday declined an interview, saying it would be better for the city if officials put the controversy behind them.

Donoghue did not return phone messages. He had previously said he would reconsider his vote if he got a commitment from school officials to close and consolidate an additional elementary school. The new Ocean Avenue school would serve 440 students; Clifford has 270 students.

Marshall said he still believes that building a new school would be a bad deal for the city unless officials at that same time spell out a consolidation plan.

He agreed to change his vote, he said, only because it became apparent that even opponents of the new school want to decide the issue at the ballot box.

"When it comes down to it, the voters want to have their say on this," he said. "I voted my conscience the other night. I still have deep regrets about where we are at."

He added, "For me, this battle isn't over. It just goes to the polls next."

School Committee Chairman John Coyne said the committee hasn't changed its views. The board still plans to wait until the new school is built, in 2011, to make any decision about whether to close another school.

He said elementary school enrollments west of Interstate 295 are holding steady and that all are near capacity.

Before making a decision to close a school, he said, it makes sense to wait until after the new school is ready and examine the latest enrollment and demographic trends.

The School Committee began working on a facilities plan in January and expects to finish the work sometime this fall, said School Committee member Jaimey Caron. The plan looks at all school district buildings, not just elementary schools.

The timetable has not changed over the past week, and neither has the School Committee's commitment to good planning, Coyne said.

The only thing that has changed, he said, is that some council members now better understand the School Committee's commitment to the process.

This week's controversy shone a light on the issue in an "awkward way," said City Councilor John Anton, but the debate resulted in a better understanding of the School Committee's position.

"I think we have a very strong School Committee that is ready to dig in and do the hard work on these issues," he said.

In a message she posted on Friday on a Web site that is used by parents, Snyder urged people to move beyond the controversy.

"This week has been wrought with anxiety for so many of us, on so many levels," she wrote. "There is a lot of healing to do as a result."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com shone a light on the issue in an "awkward way," said City Councilor John Anton, but the debate resulted in a better understanding of the School Committee's position.

"I think we have a very strong School Committee that is ready to dig in and do the hard work on these issues," he said.

In a message she posted on Friday on a Web site that is used by parents, Snyder urged people to move beyond the controversy.

"This week has been wrought with anxiety for so many of us, on so many levels," she wrote. "There is a lot of healing to do as a result."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com shone a light on the issue in an "awkward way," said City Councilor John Anton, but the debate resulted in a better understanding of the School Committee's position.

"I think we have a very strong School Committee that is ready to dig in and do the hard work on these issues," he said.

In a message she posted on Friday on a Web site that is used by parents, Snyder urged people to move beyond the controversy.

"This week has been wrought with anxiety for so many of us, on so many levels," she wrote. "There is a lot of healing to do as a result."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com shone a light on the issue in an "awkward way," said City Councilor John Anton, but the debate resulted in a better understanding of the School Committee's position.

"I think we have a very strong School Committee that is ready to dig in and do the hard work on these issues," he said.

In a message she posted on Friday on a Web site that is used by parents, Snyder urged people to move beyond the controversy.

"This week has been wrought with anxiety for so many of us, on so many levels," she wrote. "There is a lot of healing to do as a result."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com shone a light on the issue in an "awkward way," said City Councilor John Anton, but the debate resulted in a better understanding of the School Committee's position.

"I think we have a very strong School Committee that is ready to dig in and do the hard work on these issues," he said.

In a message she posted on Friday on a Web site that is used by parents, Snyder urged people to move beyond the controversy.

"This week has been wrought with anxiety for so many of us, on so many levels," she wrote. "There is a lot of healing to do as a result."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com shone a light on the issue in an "awkward way," said City Councilor John Anton, but the debate resulted in a better understanding of the School Committee's position.

"I think we have a very strong School Committee that is ready to dig in and do the hard work on these issues," he said.

In a message she posted on Friday on a Web site that is used by parents, Snyder urged people to move beyond the controversy.

"This week has been wrought with anxiety for so many of us, on so many levels," she wrote. "There is a lot of healing to do as a result."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com

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