Let’s put public education first.
It’s no secret that Portland’s elementary schools are in bad shape.
Tutoring happens in hallways. Phys-ed happens in classrooms. Meals are served in other classrooms. Roofs leak. Bricks are crumbling. Only half of Reiche School is protected by a sprinkler system.
It’s a fact that families are choosing to live in Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth and surrounding communities because Portland’s elementary schools don’t make the grade.
We’ve known for decades that they need rescue, but we’ve consistently shirked our responsibility.
Over the last 22 years, there have been 7 studies of this situation, but each time we kicked the can down the road — and each time we did, the cost grew.
Now we’re asked to borrow $61 million to repair these four schools. That’s a steal: when Kennebunk needed to repair its century-old high school in 2015, they borrowed nearly the same amount for a single school.
By taking out this bond, the owner of a $225,000 home would see a tax increase of only $150 annually. Yes, this would still be a burden for some taxpayers, so city councilors should get creative and find new ways to help — perhaps targeted tax relief or even a progressive, graduated property tax.
But if we wait, the cost will only go up.
Could the State fund repairs? That’s a big maybe.
There’s no guarantee they will fund repairs. If they do, they’ll still only fund one school, or two at most. Not all four. Construction wouldn’t begin until at least 2019 (if the State moves with breakneck speed). And the State would control the planning process — not the City or the School Board. They could even tell us to consolidate schools.
The fact is, we’ve played the “let’s wait for the State” game for decades, and what we’re left with are four crumbling schools with millions in deferred maintenance. It’s a strategy of deliberately letting our schools become as bad as possible, in the hopes that the State will come bail us out.
We cannot afford to keep playing that game. It’s a game in which we all lose.
It’s time that our kids were our top funding priority, but City Hall seems to have other ideas: the City Manager has proposed spending millions of dollars replacing all the street lights in the city with LED, Wi-Fi enabled devices.
How is it that we can afford that, but the nurse at Reiche must settle for a plumbing closet for an office? What does that say about the priorities at City Hall?
Update 1/19: Councilor Mavodones will be proposing an amendment to reduce the bond question from four schools to two, leaving the two most derelict schools to continue to get worse. This is unacceptable. It would condemn more children to embarrassingly bad education environments.
And there’s one more wrinkle: with the incoming administration supporting charter schools, we are taking a risk by leaving our schools derelict.
President Trump could point to the leaky roofs at Reiche and tweet, “See? Public schools are a disaster. Sad!”
We should have schools we can be proud of, schools of quality that can be shining counterarguments to the Trump-LePage education agenda.
I implore Portland’s councilors to support putting the bond — for all four schools — to a vote.
In particular I ask my opponent, Councilor Duson — since she appears to be the only swing vote remaining on the 9-member council — to support putting this question to a vote. Putting our schools first is right for our kids, it’s the right for our City’s future, and it’s fiscally responsible.