School budget will not increase taxes in South Portland
SOUTH PORTLAND — An influx of federal stimulus money for education will result in no tax increase for the school budget, which will be sent to voters on Tuesday, June 9.
Superintendent Suzanne Godin told a City Council workshop Tuesday at Memorial Middle School that the district expects to receive nearly $4.8 million through a combination of state and federal funding sources. Although the final breakdown is unclear, Godin said she expects $1.4 million in federal stimulus money and $3.4 million in state aid.
That allocation allowed administrators to remove $515,000 in locally funded expenditures from the budget.
Godin said the district was careful in selecting where the federal money, which is only expected over the next two years, is spent. "We're trying not to create a big hole" in future budgets, she said.
The funding will help pay for seven employees, reducing the local cost by more than $455,000. Those positions – which will be at risk when the money runs out – include a high school social studies teacher, a high school library clerk, a middle school guidance counselor, a middle school art teacher, two elementary school teachers and an elementary technology integrator.
Even without the temporary stimulus funds, Godin said the School Board would have likely reviewed the necessity of these positions in the coming years, because of enrollment changes.
Another $60,000 in maintenance repairs will be federally funded. The remaining balance of more than $800,000 is being eyed to meet the statewide initiative to expand the middle school laptop computer program to high school students and faculty.
As proposed, the School Department's $39.5 million budget keep the school share of the tax rate flat at $9.16 per $1,000 of assessed value. Although a total of 16 positions have been eliminated, there will be no layoffs, since some of those employees had only one-year contracts.
Despite no-tax-increase budget, resident Albert Dimillo continued his assault on the district's practice of budgeting based on the previous year's approved budget, rather than what was actually spent. "You have a budget that's way out of whack," he insisted.
After speaking for his two minutes, Dimillo continued to interrupt the meeting, at one point dismissing the mayor's entreaties for quiet. Dimillo then got into a heated discussion with city Finance Director Greg L'Heureux, next to whom he was seated in the audience. The two men took their discussion into the hallway, where their voices could still be heard over the proceedings.
School Board Vice Chairman Richard Carter said the department's budgeting practices have put South Portland in a better financial position than other districts in the area. The proposed budget includes $1.2 million in revenue from undesignated surplus. Carter said keeping surplus is important to address unexpected cuts in revenue. Without it, the district runs the risk of overspending.
"Instead of being patted on the back and saying, 'Good job for being
under budget,' it almost seems like we should have spent a million
dollars we didn't need to spend," Carter said. "It's not like that money is misused; it's there for future budgets. In an economy like this, thank God it's there, because that's what got us to a zero-percent budget."
Voters will be asked to approve the school budget on Tuesday, June 9, as part of 2-year-old requirement instituted along with the statewide consolidation of school districts. All residents, regardless of their voting district, will vote at the Community Center, 21 Nelson Road, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Also on the ballot is a $5.85 million bond for repairs to the high school and middle school and a change to the City Charter. There is also a $3 million, interest-free municipal bond for the Long Creek pump station, a portion of which may be forgiven as part of the federal stimulus plan.