Democrats nominate South Portland's Kessler for House

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Democrats here and in Cape Elizabeth on Tuesday picked Christopher J. Kessler to be their candidate in House District 32.

City voters also approved a $50 million school budget, 4,530 to 1,138. 

Kessler defeated South Portland resident Richard Rottkov, 641-594. The vote was 600-552 in South Portland; Rottkov bested Kessler 42-41 in Cape Elizabeth.

Kessler, on Wednesday thanked his supporters and said he is now focused on November, when he will face Republican Tammy B. Walter of Cape Elizabeth, who was unopposed on Tuesday. He said he would like to meet and have coffee with Walter. 

“I’m still soaking it in. I’m honored,” Kessler said. 

Kessler, 35, is an energy auditor who lives with his family in the Hinckley Park neighborhood.

Although previously an independent, Kessler said he registered as a Democrat so he could vote for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, in the 2016 presidential primary.

He said he remained in the party because Democrats want to fight for the same issues he cares about, including access to education, clean energy, affordable housing and universal health care.

Investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy is a priority for Kessler, who said the state’s environment is its greatest resource, to be protected for future generations.

Kessler said he supports experience-based learning and free community college, as well as publicly funded health care for all Maine residents.

School budget

Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin presented a fiscal year 2019 budget in April that would raise South Portland taxes by nearly 4 percent – even after more than $400,000 in proposed staff positions were left unfunded.

Kunin, in an email about his $50 million proposal, said it was a challenging document to develop because non-tax revenues are expected to be down more than 10 percent due to a reduction in state subsidy. According to Kunin, the School Department is expecting $6.1 million, which is about $800,000 less than this year.

Kunin explained in an earlier interview that the state allocation is based on two factors: property valuation and enrollment. The schools had 19 percent of the total cost of education paid for by the state last year. This year, the city is facing a 3 percent drop in aid, which he called significant.

The superintendent said the loss of state aid will in part be offset because the state, in a change to the way vocational education is funded, will pay South Portland’s $370,000 share of funding for the regional Portland Arts and Technology High School.

An increase in expenses has been held to 1.7 percent, but due to the reduction in revenue, the result is a proposed 3.9 percent increase in the tax rate, which, according to Kunin, is much higher than the School Department would like.

The budget is up 1.7 percent from this year’s $49.2 million, and the amount to be raised by taxes is $42 million. Another $7 million would come from the department’s fund balance and other sources, such as athletic sponsorships and tuition payments.

Taxes are expected to increase $1.6 million to cover the budget, according to Kunin’s estimates, or a 3.9 percent increase.

Positions first left unfunded, but added back into the budget before final board approval, include an assistant athletic director, a middle school resource officer, and two educational technician positions at the elementary school.

Regular instruction costs are up the most, at 6.5 percent, followed by an increase in special education costs, up 4.1 percent.

Regular instruction costs make up 41 percent of the budget, with special education absorbing 19 percent. Debt service and facilities maintenance each make up about 9 percent of the pie, followed by student and staff support.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the current, $49 million school budget last June. It was an increase of $1.2 million, or 2.4 percent, over the previous year.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. Follw her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka. 

Democrat Christopher Kessler, right, of South Portland greets a voter June 12 at the South Portland Community Center. Kessler won his party’s nomination in House Distinct 32 seat, and will face Republican Tammy Walter in November.

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