Council sends school budget to Portland voters
PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday approved the School Committee's proposed budget for fiscal 2010. On Tuesday, May 12, residents will have their say.
The school budget referendum will be the second citywide vote on school spending since the state Legislature enacted Gov. John Baldacci's school reorganization law, and the first since the City Council reduced the number of polling places from 16 to 11.
The proposed $91.3 million budget for the 2010 fiscal year, which begins July 1, represents a 2 percent increase over current spending. However, an increase in state subsidy will reduce the local tax burden by $1 million, or 1.5 percent.
Residents must vote on the local share of the budget, $87.2 million. The council vote on Monday was 9-0.
The budget eliminates 17 jobs and reassigns teachers to areas the School Committee believes are in greatest need. There are no core programming cuts, and the committee has said the budget also lays the groundwork for multi-year budgeting for curriculum, technology and transportation.
Included in the budget is a $50,000 line item for a coordinator to study implementation of an elementary-level world language program, which was cut several years ago. Another $100,000 is proposed for administrative support for incoming Superintendent of Schools James Morse, who starts July 1.
The budget also includes a $600,000 payment to the city's fund balance, which has been tapped to close budget deficits from 2007 and 2008. If the budget is approved with that allocation, the district will still owe $270,000 – a sum that could be paid off at the end of the year if the district realizes a projected $700,000 surplus.
School Committee Chairman Peter Eglinton said it's important for all residents, not just those with children in the school system, to vote.
"All Portland businesses and residents benefit from strong schools and taxpayers financially support the schools with their property taxes, whether or not they have children in the system," Eglinton said. "We have worked hard to address the economic challenges faced by our entire community, while meeting the educational needs of our students."
Eglinton said the budget is fiscally responsible and maintains programs, while supporting comprehensive planning and multi-year budgeting.
The May 12 referendum will be the first since the City Council consolidated polling locations. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
There are now two polling places in each district and one on Peak's Island; polling locations on Cliff and Diamond islands were eliminated. Voters in District 1 will vote at either the East End School or Merrill Auditorium. East Bayside and Old Port residents will now go to Merrill, along with residents from Cliff and Great Diamond islands.
District 2 already has just two polling places, but the precinct line was adjusted so more voters will go to the Portland Expo instead of Reiche School, where voter turnout historically is much higher.
In District 3, voters will go to Woodford's Church instead of the Barron Center and Temple Beth El.
The Presumpscot School is no longer a polling place for District 4. Instead, voters will be split between St. Pius Church and First Baptist Church.
Changes in District 5, however, will not be in effect for May 12 school referendum, because the new polling stations at University of New England Westbrook College Campus or Grace Baptist Church are not ready.
Absentee ballots, available in the city clerk's office at City Hall, must be returned by 8 a.m. on May 12.