School budget passes easily in Portland

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PORTLAND — Voters approved a $110.6 million school budget by a wide margin Tuesday following what Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana called a “very challenging budget year.”

Although this year’s budget approval process was a contentious one, the spending measure passed with a high level of support. Overall, 78 percent of voters favored the budget amount, with 10,992 for and 3,120 against.

During a months-long debate, the school budget was eventually reduced from Botana’s original proposal of $113 million to the amount voters saw on the ballot.

The first reduction came when the School Board trimmed $1.4 million in April. Then, last month, city councilors voted to reduce the spending even further. Under the now-approved school budget, taxpayers will see 53-cent increase per $1,000 of valuation.

While the budget represents an increase in spending of about $4.8 million, Botana said there would still have to be reductions in certain areas.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote he recommended that the School Board act to reduce more than $1 million in administrative spending, cut the school year by two days, put some staff on furlough and reduced pay, and offer fewer electives in the city’s three middle schools.

Late Tuesday night Botana issued a press release thanking voters for their support of the school budget and their “continuing … commitment to quality education for all our students.”

Botana also called the budget “a responsible one” that came during a time when the Portland schools “had to grapple with a drastic reduction in state education aid and rising costs.”

“Thanks to the Portland community’s consistent support for our schools, we can now move forward and focus on the important work of preparing for the coming school year,” he added.

In the release, Botana also referred to the School Board’s commitment to an “in-depth review of school numbers and boundaries prior to the fiscal year 2020 budget.”

He said the board is also “working on a resolution to engage the City Council and Portland legislative delegation in exploring education funding reforms to better support the school budget next year.”

While the school budget passed easily, Botana said there is still concern because the Legislature has yet to approve the state education subsidies for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.