Portland schools take 1st step toward multi-year budget

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PORTLAND — The school Finance Committee on Wednesday is scheduled to receive a draft of program reviews that will become the basis of a budget that looks five years into the future.  

The program reviews state the goals, profiles and resources of about 34 school programs, ranging from school nurses to computer technology to core educational programs like math and science. The reviews also include a look eight different special education programs, from the day treatment program at the West School to routine support within each school. 

The program profiles outline the strengths and weakness of each area, including any awards the program received. Program resources and allocations state the number of people within the department, supplies, materials, equipment and contracted services. 

School Committee member Jaimey Caron, a member of the Finance Committee, said the reviews will set funding priorities within the budget – an effort that is becoming increasingly necessary with the shrinking budgets and expected cuts in state aid to education. 

“All of these forces are pointed in the right direction,” Caron said. “And that’s a sustainable education model for Portland schools.”

Moreover, the reviews will allow the School Committee as a whole evaluate initiatives that come forward in the context of all of the competing needs.

“We tend to make decisions in isolation,” Caron said. “Take the (laptop computers), for example. Not once did we put that spending issue in context of the other needs of the district.” 

Additionally, Caron said the reviews will increase transparency of school operations and programs, giving the School Committee better oversight of the district. They may also make it easier to identify potential issues before they reach a crisis level. 

“There’s always something out there lurking and if you’re not careful, it will come up and bite you,” he said. “It’s always more expensive when the crisis upon you.”

The School Committee passed a resolution in July that 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. The resolution calls for the work to be complete by Dec. 1. 

Wednesday’s Finance Committee meeting takes place at 6 p.m. in room 321 of Portland Arts and Technology High School, 196 Allen Ave. 

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