SOUTH PORTLAND — After four weeks of workshops, the School Board debated last-minute budget tweaks Monday night before approving a proposed 3.5 percent tax increase and four additional ed tech positions.
In their final meeting before they present the fiscal 2015 budget to the City Council April 9, board members approved the changes to Superintendent of schools Suzanne Godin’s original budget by a 4-3 vote.
The 3.5 percent tax increase, which includes taxes on bond debt, is less than the original proposed increase of 4.4 percent. The cost to accommodate the new positions would be an additional $173,000, which brings the proposed operating budget to a new total of $44.8 million.
Ideas for changes came soon after Godin’s original proposal, which was introduced March 10. Her original plan assumed an estimated state subsidy of $4.6 million; the state later suggested an estimate of $5.3 million.
Godin and the Board have now reworked the budget under the cautious estimation that their state subsidy would be $700,000 more than expected, although Godin said she remains fairly certain the subsidy will be lower than that.
She presented the board with a priority list of new personnel; at the top were four ed techs and a part-time bus mechanic, who would be shared with the Portland Public Schools.
The four ed tech positions were only half of the eight total requested further down the list. Enrollment projections for the city show an increase in the number of incoming kindergartners with special needs that require one-on-one support.
Over the course of its workshops, the board grappled with how many ed techs to include, while also trying to keep the tax increase in the 2-4 percent range requested by the City Council.
In their final workshop last Thursday, the board seemed split between two avenues for how best to use the funds: four members were in favor of adding only three ed techs to the budget, to end up with a 3.3 percent tax increase, and three were in favor of retaining all four for a 3.5 percent increase.
Board members Rick Carter, Tappan Fitzgerald and Sara Goldberg remained staunchly opposed at Monday night’s meeting.
“Am I going to fall on the sword over this one? No, but we need to send a message to the council and community that we’ve done our due diligence,” Carter said, regarding the increased tax rate. “Do we believe we couldn’t live without all 4? I have trouble saying that with a straight face.”
But by Monday night, board member Richard Matthews switched his vote, giving majority support to the four total ed techs.
“There’s nothing frivolous in here,” Matthews said at the Monday night meeting. “We haven’t gone above and beyond to try to sneak anything in. I was against the fourth, but the more I think about it … it gives us room.”
“The important thing to communicate to City Council is we don’t need four (ed techs), we need eight,” board member Mary House added.
The proposal still advises for the termination of five teachers from the elementary schools, and for the addition of one eighth-grade teacher and one certified autism teacher at the high school.
The school budget goes to a referendum on June 10 after input from the City Council.