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Portland voters approve school budget

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Portland voters approve school budget

PORTLAND — Voters on Tuesday approved an $84.6 million school budget for fiscal 2012 by a more than 3-1 margin.

According to unofficial results, nearly 76 percent of voters, or 1,289, supported next year's school budget, while about 22 percent, or 412, voted against it.

Turnout, meanwhile, was the lowest it has been since the school budget validation vote was instituted in 2008, according to City Clerk Katherine Jones. 

The budget, which totals $89.5 million once adult education and food services are factored in, is more than $375,000 less than the current budget and accounts for the loss of about $6 million in federal and state revenue.

The budget eliminates 31.5 city-funded jobs and 35.6 grant-funded positions, while making investments in pre-kindergarten, adult education and world languages for third- through fifth-graders.

School Board Chairwoman Kate Snyder, who was leading a School Board workshop when reached by phone, was pleased with the results. Her colleagues on the board could be heard applauding when she conveyed the results.

Although Snyder lamented the loss of jobs in next year's budget, she said she is encouraged by the strategic investments made by the district, despite the loss of revenue.

"There's a lot to be optimistic about," Snyder said. "This is part of a multi-year effort to improve student achievement."

Taxpayers can expect a 2 percent tax increase as a result of the combined $202 million school and municipal budget, if the existing city spending plan is approved.

Although turnout was low, Snyder said she appreciated the overwhelming support from voters.

"Nobody on the school committee takes lightly the support of the taxpayers," she said.

Meanwhile, Jones said she hoped there would be at least 2,300 voters – a turnout that would have been on par with last year, when voters decided by a slim 13-vote margin to continue school budget referendum process.

Instead, the turnout of 1,701 voters Tuesday was the lowest since the four-year history of the referendum process. In 2008, 3,500 people voted and in 2009, 2,170 turned out.

The clerk could not immediately provide the current number of registered voters, but last year there were 47,000 people registered to vote in Portland.

School budget referendums cost the city about $20,000. Jones said she would like to discuss consolidating school budget polling locations in the future.

"I would like to look into getting it all into one central place," she said.

Jones, who replaced former City Clerk Linda Cohen this year, also said she was relieved to have her first election as clerk behind her.

"Everything went smoothly," she said. "I have just a great staff."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Following him on Twitter: @randybillings.