Portland forum lays foundation for school budget talks

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PORTLAND — A few members of the public turned out Jan. 29 to offer input on the development of the next School Department budget.

School Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson said the forum in the Lyman Moore Middle School library was attended mostly by “a variation of staff who were also either parents or community members,” Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk’s staff, and a few people who were strictly parents or community members.

Thompson said Caulk went over the goals of the schools’ Comprehensive Plan, which includes strengthening the academic core; stimulating progress of English Language Learners, students with disabilities, struggling learners, and gifted and talented students; innovation, and investing in infrastructure.

Thompson said these goals haven’t changed since last year.

In terms of strengthening the core, she said there was discussion about “working on our mathematics program in the district and having a little bit more individualized learning accentuated to allow students to progress at their pace.”

She said there was also discussion about the staff reflecting the diverse student body, and that there should be more recruitment possibilities both within Portland and beyond.

Thompson said there was concern expressed “around government cuts and repercussions for some of the most vulnerable students,” as well as for for programs like general assistance and other projects that might affect Portland families and children who need things like food and housing assistance.

“There was a parent that talked a little bit about the need to increase and advertise the presence of PATHS, and what a great program that is there. It’s kind of a hidden gem for Portland, and it should be utilized a little bit more,” Thompson said.

She said there was also a focus on the infrastructure of the new Hall School, which led to a discussion on state funding and plans for other buildings in the district, including Lyseth Elementary, Longfellow Middle, Reiche Community School and Presumpscot Elementary.

Hall is different, she noted, because the state will reimburse the city 100 percent for the project.

For the others, Thompson said, “we just don’t right now have the funds to attack the renovations like we really would like to within our budget.”

Thompson said the bottom line is that choices have to be made, and the School Department has to be “choosy” about how to spend the money.

“You can’t fund everything, and with the limited amount of funds that we have after we pay salary and benefits, which I think leaves us with 10 or 15 percent of the budget, that’s what we have to use for everything outside of salary and benefits,” she said.

Caulk is scheduled to present a proposed budget to the School Board on March 3. The board then has a meeting on March 10 to discuss the plan, and a public hearing on March 12. The State of the Schools address is March 16, and the next day is the first reading of the budget.

Thompson said there may be a budget workshop March 24, and on March 31 the board is expected to vote. The budget will go to the City Council in April, and eventually to a public referendum on May 12.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.