South Portland school chief presents 2 budget scenarios

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A “needs-based” fiscal year 2014 school budget cuts some positions while seeking a 1.8 percent increase in property tax revenue, according to School Superintendent Suzanne Godin.

“These reductions do not result in an impact on students,” Godin said Monday, when she introduced the budget at a School Board meeting in City Hall.

A school budget that meets the City Council’s recommendation to raise property taxes no more than 0.6 percent would result in many more cuts, Godin cautioned.

“(That) plan definitely affects student and programming services, in some cases significantly,” she said.

Godin’s 55-minute budget presentation began a process that could involve as many as three budget workshops. The School Board is scheduled to vote on the budget April 1, two days before it is presented to the City Council. The citywide school budget referendum is June 11.

School Board members accepted the proposed budget with little comment Monday night. Workshop agendas will be set by Godin and School Board Chairman Rick Carter based on questions and comments from the board and the public.

“We’ll go into the workshop, where we will look at it one step at a time,” Carter said. “If experience shows me anything, the board will come up with its own suggestions.”

The “needs-based” budget outlines $41 million in operating costs and $2.23 million in debt service for South Portland High School renovations and expansion, for a total budget of $43.24 million.

Debt service adds 18 cents to the current school share of $10.79 per $1,000 of assessed value, and the “needs-based” spending outlined by Godin would also add 18 cents. The current property tax rate is $16.50 for school and municipal operations.

The new spending is driven primarily by “$991,000 in negotiated salary increases,” Godin said. But it also calls for $84,000 for a new position to handle department communications and write grant proposals.

The department would also make a 3/4-time bus driver and 3/4-time bus aide position permanent to handle increased demands for transporting homeless children to local schools or other school districts.

Reductions in the budget affect mostly open positions or ones to be opened by retirements, including a technology support specialist funded at $53,000, a kindergarten teaching position at Small School budgeted at $63,000, and half an English teaching position at the high school budgeted at $31,000.

To make the council recommendation limiting the property tax increase to 0.6 percent for operations and excluding debt service, Godin has proposed eliminating the high school ice hockey program to save $34,000, eliminating half positions in middle school and high school guidance departments to save a combined $58,000.

It would also eliminate a full-time department-wide English instructor for gifted and talented students. That would save $76,000 and cut staffing to one instructor in English, while two math instructors remain.

Godin said the effects of these cuts would be pronounced.

“What this does is pull away all programming and that (English) teacher becomes a consultant only,” she said.

The property taxpayer share of revenue would increase from $35.23 million to $37.51 million, while the estimate for state general purpose aid is $4.53 million. The budget also calls for using $800,000 of undesignated surplus from the current fiscal year, a reduction from the $1.05 million fiscal year 2012 surplus used to fund the current budget.

Godin said the state subsidy contains more than $550,000 to offset mandated local contributions to teacher pensions previously funded by the state, and warned the entire subsidy could easily be changed as budget deliberations continue in the state Legislature.

“I am very uncomfortable with this number,” Godin said. “I would anticipate our numbers would not be firmed up until April or May.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

South Portland school budget workshops:

• March 21, 6:30 p.m., Memorial Middle School.

• March 26, 6:30 p.m., Mahoney Middle School.

• March 28, 6:30 p.m., Memorial Middle School.

School Board budget vote:

• April 1, 6:30 p.m., Mahoney Middle School.

Presentation to City Council:

• April 3, 6:30 p.m., City Hall.

School budget referendum:

• June 11.

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.