Deal to provide equal opportunity for girls sports to cost Portland schools $400,000

Posted Oct. 01, 2013, at 12:56 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 01, 2013, at 3:54 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A recent agreement between the U.S. Education Department and Portland Public Schools will cost nearly $400,000 to implement and will provide equal athletic opportunities for girls.

The agreement also calls for “substantial upgrades” to Payson Park.

The agreement was announced Friday — more than three years after problems with the distict’s booster clubs were first identified by critics and an independent study by the district’s law firm, then recently confirmed by the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

The Office for Civil Rights noted that the district was not in compliance with Title IX, a federal mandate that requires equal athletic opportunities for girls. The agreement calls for the district to expand athletic opportunities and facilities for eighth-grade and high-school girls, including a volleyball program, equal compensation for coaches, improvements to locker rooms and upgrades to Payson Park, according to an executive summary presented last month to the school board.

The park upgrades include $373,000 in improvements to the scoreboard, lighting system and bleachers, plus the installation of dugouts, batting cages and a public address system to accommodate girls’ softball teams from Deering and Portland high schools.

Those improvements will be paid under the city’s capital improvement program, according to the summary, which was written by Peter Eglinton, the school department’s chief operations officer.

“The field improvements will require city authorization and appropriation as part of the capital improvement program, which is a separate process that starts later this fall,” the summary states. “Projects with federal mandates receive extra point values towards project selection.”

The remaining improvements will be paid by the school department, but will not significantly impact this year’s school budget. In fiscal 2015, however, the department will pay about $21,200 to start a volleyball program, plus $24,000 each year to fund it.

One official with the U.S. Department of Education said the school administration was cooperative with the Office for Civil Rights, according to a news release.

“I appreciate the Portland Public Schools’ efforts to work cooperatively and proactively with us to address the inequities,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said. “This agreement demonstrates the district’s strong commitment to its students.”

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that prohibits gender discrimination against students and employees at educational institutions, including school athletics.

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