Portland school budget goes to referendum

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PORTLAND — The proposed $102.8 million school budget is now up to city voters.

The budget, which constitutes a 1.2 percent spending increase, sailed through each step of the approval process, with little push back from School Board members or city councilors.

It was unanimously moved to a May 12 referendum by the City Council on Monday.

School Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson said the budget has not changed since it was first unveiled in early March.

“Everyone has been very supportive,” Thompson said. “(The budget) got referred from the finance committee. They seemed to be very supportive of our process, as well as a slight increase.”

When first presented, Superintendent of Schools Emmanuel Caulk called the budget “modest.” He had said a major challenge was dwindling aid from the state.

The School Department lost nearly $1 million in state Essential Programs and Services funding, a nearly 6.5 percent reduction. During the initial introduction of the budget, Caulk had said without the EPS loss, the city tax increase would have been only 1.1 percent.

Likewise, he said if the state still paid the costs of teacher pensions, as it had until shifting them to local school districts in 2013, the tax rate increase would have been “zero or less.”

The budget maintains current staff, class sizes and programs. Personnel costs increased by $2.2 million, or 2.7 percent.

“We’ve stated publicly numerous times if we get more state revenue, we’ll use it to offset tax increase,” Thompson said. Since “things aren’t settled up in Augusta,” she added, it was hard to know if any more state revenue would be coming.

Voters are being asked to sign off on a 2.3 percent increase in the school portion of the city’s property tax rate, adding about $23 in taxes per $100,000 of assessed value.

The school portion combined with the proposed municipal side of the budget would add 58 cents to the current tax rate, to $20.58 per $1,000 of assessed value.The combined school and city budget, which totals over $320 million, would account for a $116 annual tax increase on a property worth $200,000.

The 2.3 percent increase is about the same as the increase voters overwhelming approved a year ago.

Voting will take place from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. on May 12, and all the city’s polling stations will be open. Residents may register and vote on the same day. The City Council will vote on the municipal budget on May 18.

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.