Portland school budget of $112M in council's hands

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PORTLAND — The nearly $112 million school budget is now in the hands of the City Council after the School Board voted 7-1 last week for the spending plan.

The council’s Finance Committee, however, probably will reduce the proposed fiscal year 2019 school budget.

The vote by the School Board on April 12 followed joint workshops between the School Board and council finance committees in recent weeks, during which councilors continually said a proposed 6.4 percent increase in spending was too high.

After various adjustments, it’s anticipated the school budget, if approved, would add $163.20 to the annual tax bill of a home valued at $240,000.

In defending the budget last week, School Board Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow argued that “we need to have some leniency on our side of the budget.”

In support of their budget, she and other board members referenced more than $3 million lost in state aid to education as one of the biggest factors driving the tax increase.

In fact, board member Tim Atkinson described the loss in education subsidy as “the state yank(ing) the rug out from under us.”

In addition, Jenna Vendil, chairwoman of the School Board’s Finance Committee, argued the spending package represents “a compromise budget” that “protects (the) things we value as a school and community.”

Superintendent Xavier Botana’s original budget proposal totaled $113.4 million, which represented a 9 percent increase. However, the School Board Finance Committee trimmed that spending by about $1.4 million, mostly through cuts in administrative positions that have yet to be identified.

Other items were on the table to be cut, including closing the two island schools and increasing class sizes at the elementary school level, but the School Board didn’t want to go there.

Laurie Davis was the only School Board member to vote against the spending measure, saying this week, “we can support a quality education at a lower tax rate. Our schools are really quite good and many people are not persuaded that we need to spend a lot of extra money.”

Davis, who is also on the School Board’s Finance Committee, also said it’s unfortunate that the board sent the city a budget that is clearly not acceptable to the majority of the council. “We haven’t been in this situation for awhile,” she added.

“This is an issue of what we can afford,” Councilor Nick Mavodones, chairman of the city’s Finance Committee said April 5. “Everybody up here cares about education and teaching and learning, but we also have to be cognizant of the municipal side of the budget. We can’t have it all.”

He also argued that if the City Council does end up requesting a reduction in the school budget “it won’t be the end of education as we know it, even though that’s the narrative that’s out there.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.