Portland schools adopt multi-year budgeting

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PORTLAND — The School Committee on July 8 approved a multi-year budget process members say will increase accountability to the community.

The resolution requires the superintendent of schools to submit a recommendation for funding priorities over five fiscal years along with a one-year budget proposal. The process will also include recent budget history.

Superintendent James Morse Sr. said he has never undertaken a multi-year budgeting process. He predicted it would increase the work load on central office staff, especially in the first year, but endorsed the plan, saying it would give the committee “a solid road map” to make quality decisions in good or bad economic times.

Morse also said the resolution sends a message to the community that the School Committee is taking control of its agenda and setting a long-term vision for the School Department.

“It’s about hope,” Morse said. “You hope that you can see through the recession to the recovery.”

Several committee members said the schools are uniquely positioned to undertake a multi-year budgeting process, noting the city has a new superintendent in Morse, who started July 1, a relatively new School Committee and has recently completed a comprehensive analysis of school facilities. 

Committee member Kate Snyder, who leads the Finance Committee, said the five-year budget plan gives the committee context for the budget. Snyder pointed to last year’s threatened $2.8 million curtailment of state education funds and cuts projected in the next two years as reasons for the committee to take a longer view.

“Now more than ever, we need to demonstrate we’re committed to doing our budget work differently,” Snyder said. “We’re well-poised to begin this work, because of some hard lessons we continue to recover from.” 

Committee member Justin Costa said the timing is appropriate, especially since Morse is initiating a community-wide visioning process for the schools.

“What this does, more than anything, is allow us and the district to be held accountable to the visioning process,” Costa said.

Committee Chairman Peter Eglinton said the process will help the committee better plan for a variety of competing needs, from school facilities and technology to union contracts and dwindling state aid. 

“The budget is a real concrete manifestation of where we’re putting our priorities,” Eglinton said. 

In other business, the committee unanimously approved a nearly $660,000 contract with Business Equipment Unlimited for the supply and service of 89 photocopiers, 13 fewer than are in the current contract, which ends on Aug. 2. 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net