$105M school budget awaits Portland voters

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PORTLAND — A $105 million education budget goes to voters June 13 at polling places throughout the city.

Reduced from the original $107.6 million proposed in February by Superintendent Xavier Botana, the budget would add 28 cents to the city property tax rate of $21.11 per $1,000 of assessed value.

When the school budget is combined with the $240 million municipal budget passed by city councilors May 15, city property owners will see an overall tax rate increase of 54 cents.

The budget would eliminate 23.2 positions through the School Department, with nine of those at the central office. The School Department will also take over hiring and paying crossing guards from the city at an estimated cost of $200,000.

The school budget was passed unanimously by the City Council on May 15.

How much state aid will be in the budget remains undetermined as the referendum approaches. The biennial budget proposed by Gov. Paul LePage contained a reduction of almost $2.1 million in Essential Programs and Services aid from this year’s $13.48 million.

The Legislature continues to work on the budget, and the city school budget anticipates EPS aid amounting to $12.4 million.

The referendum ballot has a second question asking voters to allow the School Department to spend any state aid above what has already been written into the budget, use the additional funding as cash reserves, or dedicate the funding to reducing the property tax burden.

The school budget will require a $2.45 million increase in revenue from property taxes, from $80.3 million to $82.7 million. Overall spending increases 1.4 percent, from $103.6 million to $105 million.

In her April 24 cover letter for the budget, School Board Chairwoman Anna Treverrow said enrollment did decline by 109 from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2017.

The decrease in enrollment continues a trend from 2013, when there were more than 6,950 students in city schools, according to budget documents. 

“It is important to understand that in a district the size of Portland, with over 6,700 students, the impact of an annual drop in students is spread across multiple schools and classes,” Trevorrow said.

Corresponding reductions in staffing include teaching positions at East End Community, Ocean Avenue and Hall Elementary schools, two teaching positions at Presumpscot Elementary School, and four half-time and two full-time positions at Portland High School.

While the school budget typically represents about 50 percent of the property tax burden, the state-mandated referendum to approve a budget has never drawn more than the 3,500 voters who turned out for the first referendum in 2008.

Voter turnout plummeted to 970 in 2015, but rebounded to last year to almost 1,500. At the time, there were more than 54,000 registered voters. This year, city councilors shifted the election date from May to June 13, so voters will also be casting ballots on a $50 million state bond referendum.

Polls are open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. in the following locations:

• District 1-1, East End Community School, 195 North St.

• District 1-2, Merrill Rehearsal Hall, 20 Myrtle St.

• District 1-3, St. Christopher’s Church, 15 Central Ave., Peaks Island

• District 2-1, Reiche School, 166 Brackett St.

• District 2-2, Exposition Building, 239 Park Ave.

• District 3-1, Woodfords Club, 179 Woodfords St.

• District 3-2, Italian Heritage Center, 40 Westland Ave.

• District 4-1, St. Pius Church, 492 Ocean Ave.

• District 4-2, First Baptist Church, 360 Canco Road

• District 5-1, Deering High School gym, 370 Stevens Ave.

• District 5-2, Grace Baptist Church gym, 476 Summit St.

A map of city voting districts can be viewed online at http://bit.ly/2e7ONi3.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.