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City Council sends $90M Portland school budget to May 11 referendum

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City Council sends $90M Portland school budget to May 11 referendum

PORTLAND — Residents will vote on the school budget on Tuesday, May 11, after the nearly $90 million spending plan was unanimously approved Monday by the City Council.

The budget referendum will also ask whether residents want to continue voting on the school budget for another three years.

The $89.9 million budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 would eliminate 45 jobs, but begin rebuilding the elementary foreign language program while bolstering staffing for English Language Learners, who account for about 25 percent of the city's 7, 000 students.

Although the budget is smaller than current budget, it will result in a 1 percent tax increase, since a nearly $4.5 million reduction in state and federal funding shifts more of the budget burden to local property owners.

School Committee Chairman Peter Eglinton said he hopes residents will support the budget, since the spending plan is $1.4 million smaller than the budget approved last year.

"Unfortunately, to achieve this outcome, dozens of dedicated and valued staff will be gone next year," Eglinton said.

Despite the cuts, Eglinton said the budget was built with an eye towards the future. It is the first year of a multi-year approach that officials hope will rebuild the public education system.

"The budget recognizes the growing needs of our diverse, multilingual community, while emphasizing more equitable resources and programming for all students across the district," he said.

The district will continue to look toward independent, third-party evaluations of Portland's educational structure, Eglinton said. Over the next year, studies will focus on the district's middle and high school sports programs, as well as its music programs.

Voters will also be asked whether they would like to continue voting on the school budget, a new requirement under the school consolidation law signed by Gov. John Baldacci in 2007.

Polls will be open on May 11 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. To find your polling place, go to PortlandVoters.com

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-2661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net