Revised Portland school budget cuts additional jobs

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PORTLAND — The School Board Finance Committee last week cut another $1.5 million from the proposed fiscal year 2014 budget.

The reduction would eliminate more positions, add staff furlough days, hike employee health-insurance costs and further reduce spending for equipment and supplies.

Even with the new reductions, the district’s proposed budget is just over $98 million and will result in a more than 3.5 percent increase in the school portion of the property tax rate.

According to the district’s budget website, the budget will use $1.3 million from the district’s undesignated fund balance to cover $155,000 in capital costs, $500,000 for charter school expenditures and a portion of the unexpected shift in teacher retirement costs from the state to the district.

“This is a one-time use of the fund balance that we feel is appropriate and reasonable under the circumstances,” Superintendent of Schools Emmanuel Caulk said in a press release. “Looking ahead to next year, we will incorporate these new financial constraints into our multi-year budget planning so that the use of fund balance for these purposes will not be required going forward.”

The district has already absorbed a cut of nearly $1 million in its state subsidy this year because of Gov. Paul LePage’s curtailment order and will see a shift of $1.4 million in employer contributions to the teacher retirement plan, in addition to the new expenditure for charter school tuitions.

Caulk previously presented a budget to the School Board in March. The initial budget called for reductions on spending for supplies, postponing some “non-essential” repairs and reducing the workforce by 41.2 full-time jobs.

The additional cut of $1.5 million would eliminate nine more staff positions; add five furlough days for non-union administrators and support staff; cut spending for athletic supplies, contracted services, food service equipment and the board contingency fund, and increase employee-paid health insurance premiums.

Budget documents show the largest portion of the School Department’s budget is labor costs, representing 69 percent of the increased costs in the proposed budget. Under the current labor agreement the average pay increase for fiscal 2014 is just over 5 percent for teachers, just over 4 percent for principals and nearly 5 percent for custodians, secretaries and bus drivers.

A press release from the district said Caulk originally hoped unions would help mitigate budget cuts, but the teacher’s bargaining unit, the largest of the three unions, declined to offer or negotiate any alternatives to the current contract. Unions representing principals, custodians, secretaries and bus drivers have discussed some ideas, but agreements have not been reached.

“We remain hopeful that the unions will offer concessions to minimize the staff cuts and lessen the impact on our students,” Caulk said.

The full School Board was scheduled to discuss the budget at its business meeting Tuesday night. A public hearing on the municipal budget and school budget will be held April 29 at 5:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers at City Hall.

Amber Cronin can be reached at [email protected] or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.