Portland voters overwhelmingly approve $105M school budget

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PORTLAND — A record number of voters said yes Tuesday in a very big way to the $105 million fiscal year 2018 school budget.

In the state-mandated referendum vote, the budget passed 3,140 to 890, with 7 percent of the city’s registered voters casting ballots.

The turnout was more than 500 voters more than the 2008 budget referendum and more than twice last year’s turnout of 1,482.

After the election, School Superintendent Xavier Botana expressed his gratitude to voters.

“Thank you, voters of Portland, for investing in education by approving our budget for the 2017-2018 school year. The budget is a responsible one approved by both the Portland Board of Public Education and the City Council in a very challenging budget year,” Botana said in a press release.

Voters also approved a second question allowing any extra state funding allocated in the new biennial budget to be used for programs and services, cash reserves, or property tax relief. It passed 3,406 to 656.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said he hoped the approval and turnout presaged support for bigger things.

“I hope this is a precursor to a strong vote this fall in support of transforming four of our elementary schools – Reiche, Longfellow, Lyseth and Presumpscot – into 21st century centers of learning. Our city cannot thrive without fully investing in education,” Strimling said in a press release.

The new budget, which increases current spending from $103.6 million, estimates the School Department will receive $12.4 million in aid from the state Department of Education, a reduction of $1.08 million.

The new biennial budget that sets state spending has not been approved by the Legislature or Gov. Paul LePage, making it possible for the School Department to receive a larger state subsidy than anticipated.

Strimling said he hoped the Legislature would fund education at a 55 percent level.

“If the Legislature implements the will of the voters and fully funds education at 55 percent, Portland will likely see upwards of $10 (million). Having an injection of revenue like that will be game-changing for our schools and for Portland property taxpayers,” he said.

Passage of the school budget concludes the city budget process for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1. The $240 million municipal budget, which includes the city share for Cumberland County budget operations, was approved by the City Council on May 15.

All told, the school and municipal budgets will increase the city tax rate from $21.11 per $1,000 of assessed value to $21.65. The overall school spending increase of 1.4 percent requires a 2.75 percent increase in city property tax revenue, and adds 28 cents of the total 54-cent increase.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Botana: “The budget is a responsible one … in a very challenging budget year.”

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.