Portland City Council to receive $95M school spending plan

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PORTLAND — School Board Chairwoman Kate Snyder next week will present the City Council with a $94.9 million education spending plan she called the “right budget, right now.”

The budget, which requires a nearly 3.7 percent hike in local property taxes, was approved April 10 by a 7-1 School Board vote. After a City Council vote, city voters  have the final say in a May 15 budget validation referendum.

The budget will officially be presented to the City Council at 7 p.m. Monday, April 23, in Council Chambers at City Hall. The Finance Committee will vote on the budget at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, in Room 209 of City Hall.

The proposed budget is a 3.71 percent increase from the fiscal 2012 budget, following a three-year downward trend in education spending. If approved as proposed, it would require a 3.68 percent rise in local property taxes, or $85 a year on a home assessed at $250,000.

Superintendent of Schools James C. Morse Sr. said in March when he presented his proposal that he reduced the total to $94.9 million from the nearly $103 million requested by school administrators.

The budget includes step increases in teacher salaries, increases in health-care costs, makes up for the loss of $2 million in revenue from a federal jobs bill set to be phased out, and includes the first payment on a four-year, $1 million technology loan.

The budget eliminates eight jobs and adds eight others, resulting in no net change in staffing. More than 100 jobs were eliminated between fiscal years 2008 and 2012, a trend Morse has said is no longer sustainable without eliminating programs and increasing class sizes.

Snyder said fiscal 2013, which begins July 1, will be the first in several years that the district won’t receive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds.

“Despite that loss of revenue, this budget builds on the work of the past three years and keeps the Portland Public Schools moving forward in improving our curriculum, addressing urgent building needs in our elementary schools and increasing the number of children who can enroll in pre-kindergarten classes,” she said.

Snyder said the School Department is an a transition period following the 2007 financial crisis and several years of reduced overall spending and layoffs. She said further staff cuts would hurt students, and now is the time to begin making strategic investments.

“We’re trying to stabilize our budget,” she said. “… I feel this is the right budget, right now.”

School Board member Jaimey Caron cast the only vote against the budget. He said he was troubled by the lack of discussion around how the budget affects student achievement.

Caron said he would like to see the board sit down after a new superintendent is in place and “define what we want our district to look like.” Without those types of guidelines in place, it’s hard to determine if the budget is investing in the correct areas, he said.

“It’s hard to judge if $95 million is the right budget,” he said. “… We’re never going to have enough money. How do we make the most of the money we’ve got? I don’t think we’re doing that.”

 Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.