Portland voters approve school budget, keep referendum

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PORTLAND — Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a $103.6 million school budget for fiscal year 2017.

There was a significant increase in voter turnout compared to last year, but still, few people visited the polls.

Unofficial results Tuesday night showed the budget passed 921-558. A total of 1,479 people voted, compared with 970 last year.

According to city data, there were more than 54,000 registered voters in Portland as of February, meaning approximately 2.7 percent of voters turned out Tuesday.

And despite the continuing low turnout, voters by a much closer count of 802-676 agreed to continue having residents vote to approve the budget for an additional three years.

At the Howard C. Reiche Community School, polling station warden Marianne O’Malley Sampson said she was surprised that fewer than 75 voters had turned out by 4 p.m. She said Reiche usually sees close to 130 people each year for the budget referendum. 

O’Malley said unlike past years, no one registered to vote at the polls.

“It’s a shame more people don’t come out to vote on something that affects our children,” she said. 

The approved budget is a 0.8 percent increase over the current budget, or about $826,000. Originally, the budget had been proposed at $103.7 million, or a 4.5 percent increase. The budget included an anticipated a loss of $2.7 million in state subsidy.

However, the Portland Public Schools received an additional $1.34 million in state aid. The School Board Finance Committee also voted to add $65,000 in tuition revenue for new students from the Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; reduce debt service by more than $87,000, and reduce more than $34,000 in adult education wages by eliminating a half-time vacancy.

The tax rate increase resulting from the school budget is 2 percent, or $10.33 per $1,000 of assessed value, a 21-cent increase from this year. The impact on the owner of a home valued at the Portland average of $227,000 would be an increase of just under $48 in annual taxes.

Combined with the municipal side of the budget and obligations to Cumberland County, the city budget would add 47 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, making the fiscal year 2017 total tax rate $21.10. The total combined budget is $236 million. The City Council is expected to vote on the municipal budget May 16.

In a statement released Tuesday night, Mayor Ethan Strimling said he was pleased the budget passed.

“The priorities this budget funds will meet the needs of our school children this year and expands pre-K for 16 more pre-schoolers,” Strimling said. “I hope next year we will be able to add even more pre-K classrooms, so we can get closer to universal pre-kindergarten for Portland families.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.