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Proposed Portland school budget would hike taxes 4%

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Proposed Portland school budget would hike taxes 4%

PORTLAND — Despite the potential of a nearly $1 million curtailment in state funding, the school superintendent is proposing a 3.5 percent budget increase for 2013-2014.

Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk presented a $98.9 million budget for the next fiscal year at the March 12 School Board meeting.

His spending plan preserves the district's core academic programs, but there would be a significant impact on taxpayers.

The proposed budget would lead to a nearly 4 percent increase in local property taxes, amounting to a tax increase of $35.32 per $100,000 of property value.

It also includes a reduction in spending for supplies, postponing non-essential repairs to schools, and would reduce the workforce by 41.2 full-time jobs. It also calls for using $1 million from the district's unrestricted fund balance.

Caulk said an additional $1.5 million must still be cut, but he hopes to do so without additional staff reductions and is calling on unions to be flexible and help the district find additional funds.

“Personnel costs are the biggest single item in our budget,” he said. “We are asking our employee unions to also make an investment in next year's budget, so that we don't have to make additional cuts that would be truly devastating to our students, staff, parents and community.”

He said if unions, employees and the district can work together to find a solution to the budget gap, additional staff reductions can be avoided.

Caulk acknowledged that there were major challenges in putting this budget together to minimize costs.

Among the main challenges to creating the budget was the flat funding from the state after a nearly $1 million curtailment this year, and a the proposed shift of nearly $1.5 million in retirement costs to the city.

Additionally, with the opening of new charter schools, such as Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, the district must pay an estimated $600,000 to cover tuition for Portland students planning to attend these schools.

Finally, the district must cover pay increases to employees as stipulated in their contracts.

In a monthly column published this week in The Forecaster, Caulk said “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 fiscal year 2014 budget that preserves academic programs including pre-kindergarten and adult education, while cutting costs in several areas that are farther from the classroom.”

The budget, Caulk said, makes investments in areas that “align with our district's comprehensive plan.”

The budget funds initiatives such as the addition of another school resource officer, providing more rigorous academic programs including improved science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, strengthening student support, launching several advisory councils and professional development for teachers.

A public forum on the budget planned for March 19 was postponed due to weather. The rescheduled date was not announced.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.