Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The West End NEWS: January 2006

The West End NEWS: February 1, 2006



The Portland City Council will hold a workshop at the end of February to review the work of the Elementary Schools Task Force, which has been working since early December on proposals that include closing the Reiche Elementary School and busing Reiche School students to a newly-built school on Douglas Street in Libbytown, about one and-a-half-miles from the current West End elementary school.
West End City Councilor Karen Geraghty told West End activists that the Reiche School would not be closed because it is an ‘anchor school’. But Task Force members dismissed that designation as being outdated and no longer applicable. Geraghty did not learn of the task force’s latest proposal until late January, six weeks after Task Force member Ed Suslovic advised members of a Community Design Workshop to hold off on holding a collaborative workshop which would develop a master plan for Reiche Community Center. The West End Neighborhood Association temporarily suspended all planning activities for the Community Design Workshop that had been tentatively scheduled for early March. WENA is sponsoring the workshop based upon the needs and priorities of neighborhood residents and other stakeholders. Planners decided to await the report of the Elementary Schools Task Force on possible school consolidation before moving forward, but have since decided to move ahead with planning the workshop. The Task Force report is expected in March or April. The workshop is expected to take place in May or June.

At the Task Force meeting on January 25th, the Reiche School was one of two schools chosen in a straw poll of the panel’s members as the best candidates for closing. The Presumpscot School was the first choice of the panel. The Clifford School has already been designated by state officials as not a viable school and one that cannot be renovated. Task Force Chair Jason Toothaker has consistently described the group as an advisory board to the School Committee, and described their discussions as being in the very early stages. The Task Force was organized by School Committee member and former Chair Jonathan Radtke.
The Reiche School was described at the January 25th meeting as ‘educationally not working’ because of its open layout. Reiche is currently listed 23rd on a state list of schools that would receive state funding.
Suslovic told the Task Force on January 11th that maintaining the Reiche School in the West End would provide an inequitable education to the area children. (See related stories.) The committee was reviewing six potential reconfiguration scenarios. A seventh scenario, which called for not building any new schools, was rejected by the committee.
Two School Board members, Stephen Spring and Ben Meiklejohn, raised concerns at the board’s January 25th meeting that Reiche was being tossed around as an option and demanded a cleaner and more transparent process. The minutes of all Task Force meetings will now be made public and sent to every school committee member. The School Committee and Task Force will operate with the current plan mentioned in the November 2002 report, which calls for a re-evaluation of the situation before moving ahead. The next slated "bundle" in the report asks that the School Committee renovate, not close Reiche. The status of Reiche will change if the School Committee decides to deviate from its original plan, which has not happened, according to Spring. The Task Force’s next meeting is at 4PM on February 8th at Room 340, at PATHS.


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