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Superintendent's Notebook: Supplemental budget vote vital for Portland schools

Opinion

Superintendent's Notebook: Supplemental budget vote vital for Portland schools

Students will return to the Portland Public Schools on Wednesday, Sept. 4. That day, Portland voters will go to the polls to consider a supplemental budget for the district.

Passage of the referendum is crucially important for us to start the school year with full staffing that will support student learning. The $1.9 million supplemental budget will be paid for entirely by state aid, so there will be no impact on Portland property taxpayers.

This election is unusual for several reasons.

First, Portland residents already approved the school budget last May, by a margin of nearly 60 percent. This supplemental budget is needed because of state budget decisions made by the Legislature since then that affect the district’s revenues and expenses. It is the first time that Portland voters have faced two referendums on a school budget for a single year.

Second, the election is taking place on a Wednesday. Longtime city employees could not recall another time that has happened.

Finally, it happens to fall on the first day of school. While that is a coincidence, it also drives home the importance of the referendum to our students.

The Legislature approved an education budget that shifts some teacher retirement costs from the state to local districts. That change adds a $1.4 million expense to the Portland Public Schools’ current year budget, an expense that was not factored into the budget approved by voters in May. The district also faces about $20,000 in additional expenses for charter schools that were not included in the May budget.

To compensate districts for shouldering the teacher retirement costs, the Legislature voted late in the session to boost General Purpose Aid to Education.

As a result, our district will receive $1.9 million more in state aid than anticipated.

The referendum will allow us to use most of that money to cover the charter school and teacher retirement costs. We will use the additional state aid, about $500,000, to restore some essential positions that were cut earlier this year and to add positions that will enhance student learning at all grade levels.

Specifically, we will add:

• One more elementary assistant principal.

• The equivalent of 1.5 instructional support specialists working on middle school literacy.

• The equivalent of 1.5 high school teachers, who will increase student elective options in technology (Deering), world language (CBHS) and visual arts (PHS).

• Four educational technicians district-wide to provide direct support to students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and to English as a Second Language learners.

If the referendum doesn’t pass, all of the $1.9 million in additional state aid will go into the district’s Fund Balance. The Portland Public Schools will be forced to cut many more jobs to compensate for teacher retirement and charter school expenses.

The Portland City Council and the Portland Board of Public Education unanimously approved the supplemental school budget. Voter approval is required in order for it to take effect.

I encourage Portland residents to vote yes on the referendum. You can vote by absentee ballot anytime between now and Aug. 30, or go to the polls on Sept. 4 between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.