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Portland school chief sees 'small increase' in spending next year

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Portland school chief sees 'small increase' in spending next year

Proposed budget eliminates more than 20 positions
PORTLAND — The Portland School Committee on Wednesday was scheduled to receive Interim Superintendent Jeanne Whynot-Vickers's proposed fiscal 2010 budget, which includes cutting more than 20 staff positions and a spending increase.
Whynot-Vickers declined to provide a specific percentage increase over the current year's spending plan prior to her presentation to the School Committee. However, she said it was less than the 4.5 percent increase the committee green-lit last year.
Whynot-Vickers also her budget eliminates more than 20 positions. She said the net reductions are based upon enrollment trends and staff deployment. She said the cuts would be felt at all levels, from kitchen workers to administrators.
However, they will not be enough to preclude a spending increase.
Last year's $89.5 million budget represented a 4.5 percent spending increase over the previous year's budget. Whynot-Vickers said last year's budget sought implement true funding levels of historically under-funded programs, a practice that ultimately caused a $2 million deficit in 2007.
"We're still trying to be really fiscally conservative," Whynot-Vickers said. "This year, our expenditures are still going to climb slightly, but it's a small increase."
Whynot-Vickers said the district only needs to budget $120,000 for teacher raises based on professional development. Last year, the district budgeted $750,000 for raises, or lane changes. But after the budget was passed, the administration reached a cost-controlling deal with the teacher's union, making raises more predictable.
Meanwhile, Whynot-Vickers said health insurance and cost of living adjustments in salaries are also driving up costs.
Although more than 20 positions are targeted in the proposed budget, Whynot-Vickers said more staff will be devoted to meet the rising demand for special services for economically disadvantaged youth and English language learners.
"The net of over 20 cuts is after we've made some internal shifts to accommodate programming needs," she said. "We're trying to strike a balance of being really fiscally conservative
and do the very best we can to provided quality programming."
Whynot-Vickers said she expects the district to receive an additional $2.8 million in Title I funds for economically disadvantaged children over the next two fiscal years from the federal economic stimulus bill enacted by Congress last month. However, her proposed plan doesn't include these anticipated funds, since state officials are still trying to figure out the restrictions that come with that money.
"We have to see what the guidelines are," she said. "Whatever we do with the stimulus, it's done in 18 months."
Meanwhile, the proposed budget includes $600,000 to repay debt incurred from the 2007 deficit of $2 million. In the current budget, the district repaid $600,000 to the city, which used its reserve fund to pay $1.2 million in order to close the school's 2007 books.
The school district still owes the city more than $800,000, since the schools overspent last year by about $240,000.
Whynot-Vickers said the district would likely be able to pay off its debt to the city by the end of next year, with possibly enough money left to start a reserve fund for the schools.
Whynot-Vickers will present her budget to the School Committee on Wednesday, March 4, at 7 a.m., in room 250 of Casco Bay High School, 196 Allen Ave.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.