South Portland school budget would hike spending, cut 5 teachers

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A proposed school budget for fiscal year 2015 would increase spending by 4 percent, and cut five elementary school teachers.

Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin presented her proposed $44.7 million budget to the School Board Monday night at South Portland High School.

The preliminary budget proposal would increase the school portion of the city tax rate by 3.11 percent, to $10.56 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The current city tax rate is $16.70, with $10.24 going to school operations. For a home with a median value of about $223,000, the estimated annual tax increase would be $79.

The 90-page budget document outlines a $1.7 million spending increase from fiscal year 2014’s budget of $43 million. The recurring theme in Godin’s presentation was uncertainty, as she predicted many of her budget estimates would change in the coming weeks as the department receives more information from the state.

Godin said “a fluctuation in enrollment” in the past few years in the elementary schools is the basis for her recommendation to eliminate five elementary school classrooms, going from 81 to 76 across the district. She proposed cutting second- and fourth-grade classrooms at Dyer Elementary School, fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms at Skillin School, and a third-grade classroom at Small School. 

Proposed staff additions include a new eighth-grade teacher at Memorial Middle School and a new autism teacher at the high school, at a cost of more than $140,500.

Other notable proposed expenses in the budget include collective bargaining and health insurance costs of about $965,000, and the purchase of a new school bus at $88,000. 

The presentation was the first step in the school budget time-line. A series of School Board workshops on the proposed budget will begin on March 19, with two more following on March 25 and 27, at 6:30 p.m. at the high school. The board will vote on the budget March 31.

Pending its approval, the budget will then move to the City Council, and eventually to voters.

Godin said the initial proposal assumes an incorrect state subsidy in the budget for fiscal year 2015, because official estimates were not received until Monday morning. Instead of $4.6 million, Godin said the subsidy estimate is $5.3 million, a $700,000 increase.

But Godin also expressed her lack of confidence in the new number, because of several uncertainties about education spending at the state level, citing among other issues that a $10 million gap in education spending in the state budget for the next fiscal year has not been corrected.

She advised the board that “$5.3 million is much better (than $4.6 million), but don’t get sold on it. I can guarantee you, it’s not going to look like that by the end of the day.”

Though not yet approved in the preliminary budget proposal, Godin noted needs in the budget for more maintenance staffing to accommodate the high school expansion, as well as general maintenance work she would like to see done at the middle schools to make the buildings safer.  

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.