Mon, Jul 28, 2014 ●
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Superintendent's Notebook: Proposed Portland school budget reflects community values

Opinion

Superintendent's Notebook: Proposed Portland school budget reflects community values

In years past, Portland residents have shown time and again that they value public education by providing resources to support our schools.

That steadfast support is particularly noteworthy in a city where less than 13 percent of households have school-age children. Portland residents recognize that the entire community benefits by educating young people for the 21st century jobs that will help our city prosper. By building a world-class system of great schools, we also will continue to attract homeowners and businesses to Portland.

We face many challenges as we craft the Portland Public Schools budget for 2013-2014. After a state curtailment cut nearly $1 million from the district’s funding this year, we face flat state funding in fiscal year 2014. The governor’s budget would shift $1.5 million in retirement costs from the state to the district, and Portland will have to pay an estimated $600,000 to cover tuition for students attending charter schools. Our district’s union contracts call for wage and benefit increases, and health insurance premiums will rise.

We must balance the need to keep property taxes affordable with our responsibility to prepare Portland’s students for college and careers. I have proposed a FY 2014 budget that preserves academic programs, including pre-kindergarten and adult education, while cutting costs in several areas that are farther from the classroom.

My budget would make strategic investments in five areas that align with our district’s Comprehensive Plan: core curriculum and instruction, student support, staff development, school security and family and community engagement. The budget would fund initiatives such as:

• Adding another school resource officer to help with emergency preparedness.

• Providing more rigorous academic programs, including ramped up instruction for ninth-graders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

• Strengthening support for students at all levels, including English language learners, those in the gifted and talented program, and students receiving special services.

• Launching school advisory councils and a "Parent University," as well as other measures to increase family and community engagement.

• Implementing staff evaluations and investing in professional development district-wide.

Over the past several weeks, my leadership team has reviewed hundreds of cost-cutting ideas proposed by the district's unions, staff, parents and other community members. We have identified $3.4 million in cuts, including reductions in supply budgets, postponing some non-essential repairs and maintenance, and reducing the workforce by the equivalent of 41.2 full-time jobs.

We still need to cut an additional $1.5 million from the budget. We will ask all employees to share in the solution to avoid additional staff reductions. By working together, we can achieve that goal.

There will be several opportunities for public input during the next two months, as the School Board and the City Council work on the school budget. I encourage residents to get involved. You can find a copy of my proposed budget, dates of upcoming meetings and additional information at www2.portlandschools.org/school-budget.

Portland residents are highly educated. According to the 2011 U.S. Census, 46 percent of Portland adults have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to about 28 percent of all Mainers and all Americans.

Our city's future depends on continuing to support a public education system that will prepare our young people for their roles as Portland's future leaders.