Nearly 100 jobs, middle school sports targeted in Portland school budget

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PORTLAND — Cutting middle school athletics and eliminating nearly 100 jobs were expected to be part of the superintendent’s proposed budget presentation to the School Committee on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, increased staffing for multi-lingual students is also being proposed, along with a reduction in special education staff.

Superintendent James Morse Sr. said Monday that figures were still being finalized for Wednesday’s presentation. He would not comment on additional programming cuts until they have been presented to the committee.

“Because of the significant loss in revenue, the proposed budget will be less in total than the current budget,” Morse said. “There’s no question about that.”

Morse said the district expects to lose more than $6 million in state and federal funds next year. About $4.3 million of that is education funding from the state, he said.

Morse said between 40 and 50 teaching positions are eliminated in his proposal, in addition to 20 or 30 non-teaching positions.

Morse said layoffs in the district were softened because of a retirement incentive. About 30 employees of the more than 200 eligible for retirement took the district up on its retirement offer, he said, producing a net savings of $1.5 million projected for next year.

“That meant 30 less people lost their jobs, which is a good thing” he said. “I was hoping for more.”

The district originally estimated that as many as 140 positions could be eliminated, but Morse said under 100 jobs are proposed to be cut, accounting for about 8 percent of the school workforce, which totals more than 1,100.

“That’s still a lot,” he said.

The budget proposal also calls for cuts to middle school athletics – a move estimated to save nearly $190,000 – about two-thirds of the total money currently being spent on middle school sports.

Morse said the district worked with city recreation officials and other community organizations to identify sports programs that are currently available to middle school-aged students.

“We’re trying to partner with other organizations rather than trying to do things by ourselves,” Morse said. “Portland has a pretty rich and broad offering to youngsters and we’re trying to tap into that.”

Morse said he will be offering a “unique and exciting proposal” to eliminate duplication of those services.

City Recreation Division Manager Sally Deluca said community organizations offer all middle school sports, except indoor track. Most organizations typically perform background checks on coaches, have sportsmanship guidelines and sliding fee scale for low-income families, she said.

Meanwhile, Morse said the district would create intramural teams that would play games within the district to save money on transportation. For example, Morse said each middle school would have a basketball team, but would only play against other Portland schools.

“We have a bunch of different proposals,” he said. “For sure we’re talking about cuts, but there is more to this than meets the eye. It isn’t just about cutting programs; it’s forming partnerships within the city so the kids don’t lose out on an opportunity.”

The proposal is expected to include increasing the district’s spending on multi-lingual programming by adding “about a half-dozen positions.”

“That’s largely because we have doubled in (English Language Learner) population in the last 10 years and the teaching and support staff have been cut in half,” Morse said.

Meanwhile, Morse said his budget proposal will seek to address issues outlined in an independent consultant’s report on the city’s special education program. The report estimated the district could save $2.5 million annually through staffing reductions and a realignment of services.

“I will be responding to the overstaffing in the special ed department, so there will be reductions in that area,” he said.

The budget presentation was set to take place Wednesday at 7 p.m. in room 250 of Casco Bay High School, 196 Allen Ave.

The proposed budget will likely be referred to the Finance Committee for further review. The Finance Committee is scheduled to present its version of the budget later this month.

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

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