Portland school panel seeks $800K in budget cuts

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PORTLAND — Working to meet a City Council goal of limiting any tax increase to 2.5 percent for school and municipal spending, the School Board’s Finance Committee is working on finding $800,000 in reductions to the proposed fiscal year 2018 school budget.

Stephanie Hatzenbeuhler, chairwoman of the committee, said the group will meet again Thursday, March 30, to hammer out the remaining details and expects to present a recommended budget for full School Board review at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 4. That meeting will be held in City Council chambers at City Hall.

Earlier this month, Superintendent Xavier Botana presented his fiscal 2018 budget proposal of $107 million, which represented a 3.3 percent increase in spending.

Hatzenbeuhler said the superintendent’s budget “reflected adding new teacher contract obligations, as well as $500,000 worth of (programming) additions that reflect the district’s goals as outlined in our new comprehensive plan.”

She said the Finance Committee has met several times since Botana presented his initial request March 7, with the goal of “reviewing the budget and requesting additional cuts to decrease the tax burden.”

Hatzenbeuhler said the School Department budget was most significantly impacted by Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed state spending plan, which reduces state aid to education.

In Portland that could lead to a revenue loss of about $2 million, which has serious tax impacts for residents, Hatzenbeuhler said.

She said while school leaders are anticipating more funding for schools from the Legislature than the governor is proposing, Portland could still lose up to $1 million in state aid.

“It is important for the public to understand that the governor’s budget decimated public education budgets across the state,” Hatzenbeuhler stated. “That said, we are (still) prepared to meet the goal of a combined overall tax increase of 2.5 percent, no matter the changes in (our) revenue.”

She said the Finance Committee and school administrators are still trying to work out specific details of the cuts to be made to Botana’s initial budget.

The City Council, however, will have the final word on the overall school budget amount to be sent to voters in a citywide referendum scheduled for May 9.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.