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Reduced budget sent to Portland School Committee

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Reduced budget sent to Portland School Committee


Panel to weigh need for assistant superintendent, retirement incentives

PORTLAND — The School Finance Committee on Monday night voted unanimously to send a nearly $91.2 million budget to the full School Committee.
The fiscal 2010 budget, which would take effect July 1, reflects an $832,000 reduction from the interim superintendent's proposed budget of $92 million and includes a $100,000 line item for an additional assistant superintendent.
The finance committee's budget would represent a $1.7 million, or 1.9 percent, increase over the current budget and increase the school's share of the local tax rate by 2.4 percent, assuming revenues do not change.
The School Committee will discuss the budget and weigh further reductions in a workshop scheduled after Wednesday night's business meeting, when it will also consider offering retirement incentives to qualifying teachers.
The bulk of the budget reductions made by the finance committee on Monday night were in employee health insurance.
Interim Superintendent Jeanne Whynot-Vickers said those costs were not known when she drafted her original budget, which included a $500,000 cost increase. Those costs, however, will not increase next year.
"I was very conservative in my budgeting," she said.
Whynot-Vickers said $135,000 worth of mistakes were also uncovered, since one employee's salary was over-budgeted by $60,000 and the adult education budget included $75,000 in local funds from a program that is actually funded by a federal grant.
Whynot-Vickers also anticipated the district would save an additional $150,000 by renegotiating contracts with school unions. Another $47,000 in savings is expected in the district's waste management program.
Although the finance committee cut an additional $832,000, it still includes a $100,000 line item for an additional assistant superintendent to oversee the district's four high schools, setting up a possible debate over the resources to provide to incoming Superintendent James Morse, who starts July 1.
Committee member Jaimey Caron made an attempt to remove the assistant superintendent from the budget because he wanted to first consult with Morse about what changes and efficiencies Morse would like to see in the central office.
Committee member Robert O'Brien, however, said that discussion would be better left to the full School Committee.
"I think there are some very strong opinions on the School Committee about this that need to be aired," O'Brien said.
O'Brien and Caron also differed on whether the School Committee should keep a $9,000 line item that would give each board member a laptop computer for school business. The committee eventually coalesced around Caron's suggestion to reallocate that money to contracted services for long-range planning.
"I'm not saying it's a bad idea," Caron said of the computers. "I just think it's more important to put those resources into what we know we need: strategic planning."
In addition to the proposed spending for an assistant superintendent, the School Committee is expected to discuss adding into the proposed budget funding for a grant coordinator and resources for reinstating the elementary foreign language program.
The committee is also expected to discuss whether a $22,000 increase in attorney fees in the current proposal is justified and whether the district should outsource it's payroll services, which could save $50,000.
There was also discussion Monday about adjustments made last week to school staffing numbers. Although last year's budget indicated there would be 1,109 positions, the district recently realized there are actually 1,139 employees.
Next year, the district expects to have 1,114 employees, a reduction of 23.6 positions. However, School Committee Chairman Peter Eglinton warned that the City Council, which sets the bottom line for school spending, may not see it that way.
"When (the City Council) looks at that they are going to see an increase in five positions," Eglinton said.
Finance Director Herb Hopkins attributed the discrepancy to human error and the lack of an adequate software system, noting the district budgeted $75,000 for software upgrades.
Whynot-Vickers sought to allay concerns about the veracity of next year's projection. "We know that (2010) is absolutely correct," she said.
Retirement incentive
Also on Wednesday, the School Committee is expected to discuss offering a $10,000 retirement incentive to retirement-ready teachers who are still in the classroom. Teachers could also choose a health-care package instead of the one-time payment.
To be eligible for the incentive, teachers must be between the ages of 60 and 62, have worked for the district for at least 10 years and meet the requirements of the Maine State Retirement System.
The proposal reserves the School Committee's right to limit the number of incentives and issue exemptions to the requirements. All decisions made by the committee would be final and not subject to review.
Teachers would have to apply for the incentive by April 10 and their retirements would be effective June 30.

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