Portland school chief proposes $4.1M budget increase, 3.7% tax hike

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PORTLAND — A proposed school budget for fiscal year 2015 calls for a nearly 4 percent increase in spending and no cuts to staff positions.

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk presented his proposed $102.3 million budget to the School Board on Tuesday night at Casco Bay High School, mixing ambitious goals with brass-tacks numbers.

If accepted as written, the budget would increase the school portion of Portland’s tax rate by 3.7 percent, adding about $36.15 of taxes per $100,000 of assessed property value, according to the district’s numbers. For a median value home of $241,700 in Portland, the tax increase would be almost $90 per year.

The board voted unanimously to forward Caulk’s proposed budget to the finance committee, which is scheduled to meet 6 p.m. Thursday at Portland High School if an approaching winter storm doesn’t cause postponement, board member Laurie Davis said.

The board’s vote was largely clerical, as explained by Chairwoman Sarah Thompson prior to Caulk’s presentation.

“We are not deliberating or acting on the content of the budget at this time,” she said.

The proposed budget, which is contained within a 113-page document, is a $4.1 million increase over the current year’s $98.2 million spending package.

The proposed increase is driven by cost increases of $950,000 for health insurance, $880,000 for debt service, $443,000 for facilities, $350,000 for early childhood education staffing, $250,000 for Casco Bay High School staffing, and more.

The proposal also aims to restore lunch aide positions for elementary schools at a cost of $160,000.

After the meeting, Caulk said he expects the city will support his plan.

“This is a budget that puts academics first, it puts our students first,” he said. “It invests in our future by investing in our students. That’s something that I think our community will fully support once they understand how the dollars are being spent.'”

The budget process begins each year in the fall and gains momentum in March, when the superintendent submits a proposed budget to the School Board. Then, in April, a board-approved budget goes before the City Council. If accepted by the city, voters will either approve or reject the budget in a referendum in May.

The budget is built from a variety of revenue streams: 75 percent from taxes, 16 percent from state subsidies, 4 percent from food service sales, and 5 percent from out-of-district tuition, adult education and other sources.

Caulk’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 also assumes a $400,000 increase in the state subsidy, from $15.9 million to $16.3 million.

Before rolling out the numbers Tuesday, Caulk devoted about 40 minutes talking about his goal of transforming Portland into the “best small urban school district in the country by 2017.”

Achieving that goal will require investments in the district’s core academic program and infrastructure, he said.

Toward that end, Caulk said the budget proposal includes, among other things, increased spending for the district’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs; foreign language programs; an expansion of Casco Bay High School, and the upcoming move of district offices to the former Goodwill Industries building at 353 Cumberland Ave.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.

Sidebar Elements

Portland school funding to be discussed from 2 angles

PORTLAND — Separate discussions on school spending and school revenue are scheduled for simultaneous meetings at opposite ends of the city this week, but both meetings could be cancelled by an upcoming winter storm.

At 6 p.m. Thursday in the Alumni Hall at Portland High School, the district’s finance committee is scheduled to discuss Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk’s proposed $102.3 million budget for fiscal year 2015.

At the same time, the district’s Budget and Revenue Advisory Task Force will hold a community forum in Room 141 of Portland Arts and Technology High School, to discuss its proposal to create a nonprofit foundation that would raise private funds for “non-core” programs.

The foundation would work in conjunction with existing booster clubs and parent-teacher organizations, and holds the potential to raise “hundreds of thousands of dollars” every year, according to task force Chairman Jim Cohen.

— Ben McCanna