Portland school budget raises taxes 3.7%

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PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday formally received a proposed $97.9 million budget for the School Department.

The spending plan for fiscal 2014 is about $3.7 million more than this year’s budget, and is based on raising the portion of property taxes that fund the schools by 3.69 percent, from $9.57 to $9.92 per $1,000 of valuation.

Pressured by state funding cuts proposed by Gov. Paul LePage, the department will cut 46 full-time positions, School Board President Jaimey Caron said.

“Tough budgets have become the norm,” and this budget posed greater challenges than normal, Caron said.

Under LePage’s proposal, the city’s schools would have to pick up $1.3 million in costs for teacher pensions and $300,000 in tuition expense for students attending Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, the charter school planning to open on York Street in the fall.

But while the school budget anticipates the impact of the state cost-shifts, the city’s proposed $216 municipal budget, presented to the council April 1, assumes those changes will be rejected by the state Legislature.

In a workshop before the council meeting, councilors, School Board members and Mayor Michael Brennan questioned the wisdom of the different assumptions.

At the meeting, so did Holm Avenue resident Robert Hains.

“We don’t know what the Legislature is going to do, so to talk about the (state) budget at this time is a fool’s errand,” he told councilors.

Deering resident Chris McDonough wondered why some portions of the budget, such as human resources spending, included large increases over last year, while school enrollment remained flat.

“You’re asking me to pay more, and I don’t get it,” he said.

Answers to such questions may become clearer as the council’s Finance Committee meets to consider the proposed budget this week. The full council is scheduled to take action on the budget after a second public hearing on Monday, May 6. A required public referendum on the budget will take place Tuesday, May 14.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.