Proposed South Portland school budget tops $52M

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PORTLAND — City residents could see a 3.4 percent tax increase related to a $52.3 million fiscal year 2020 education budget introduced Monday.

“We feel it is very responsible on the expense side,” Superintendent Ken Kunin said Wednesday. “We think this really does help address our needs, and are very thankful we received more subsidy than anticipated.”

The draft budget proposed by Kunin would add 42 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to the property tax rate, while increasing overall spending by 4 percent.

The city property tax rate is $18.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, with $12.32 of the rate funding education.

The local property tax revenues needed to fund the proposed budget would increase from $42.9 million to $44.5 million, but the budget also anticipates a nearly 8 percent increase in state general purpose aid, from $6.2 million to $6.8 million.

Kunin said he initially penciled in $6 million for the subsidy. The full amount will not be determined until the Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills enact a biennial budget, but the preliminary information from the Department of Education last month put the amount at $6.8 million.

The projected aid amount is the second-highest in six years, trailing only the $6.9 million received in fiscal year 2018. It uses a three-year average for the state’s valuations of city properties, instead of two years.

The budget also projects using $250,000 of a $1.48 million surplus from the current budget.

Overall student enrollment anticipates little change, Kunin said, with 2,975 students projected, compared with current enrollment of 2,972. Enrollment for grades six through eight is expected to increase from 693 to 698, while pre-K through fifth grade is expected to decline from 1,381 to 1,373 and grades 9-12 to drop from 904 to 901.

Based on an anticipated 5.5 percent increase in health insurance premiums, the overall increase on salaries and benefits is budgeted at $1.2 million for almost 600 employees.

Kunin said last year’s premium increase was 7.3 percent, but had averaged 2.6 percent annually in the decade before that. He expects to know the actual rate increase by the end of the month or early in April.

The budget proposes to add a special education teacher at both the middle and high school levels, as well as an “instructional strategist,” while also eliminating three vacant educational technician positions.

Also in the budget is $814,000 for capital improvement spending, with $311,000 of that going for technology, including iPads for sixth-graders and high school students, and laptops for high school staff. Three buses, one with wheelchair access, will be bought as part of $198,000 spent for transportation needs.

Kunin said the budget also presents a shift for meeting the capital needs relying less on department reserves in past years.

“We need more built into the operations budget to pay for maintenance and transportation,” he said.

The first School Board workshop on the budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, at South Portland High School. Workshops will also be held on March 21, 26 and 28, with a School Board vote expected March 28.

The budget will be forwarded to the City Council on April 2, with a council workshop scheduled April 23. The council, which has final say in how much is spent, but no line item control, is expected to vote on the budget on May 21.

The state-mandated voter referendum on the budget will be June 11.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

South Portland School Superintendent Ken Kunin said his proposed $52.3 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year meets district needs while remaining fiscally responsible.

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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.