South Portland schools could seek tax hike of nearly 3.5%

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Uncertainties are making the fiscal 2018 school budget difficult to nail down.

Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin this week said the proposed budget is based on a preliminary report with a decrease of more than $300,000 in the state subsidy to city schools. The subsidy was almost $6 million this year.

Kunin said the School Department and School Board are waiting to receive some health insurance premium information that is supposed to be available by April 7. 

Proposed school budget expenditures are almost $49 million, which is a 2.6 percent increase. But due to the potential loss of state revenue, the total to be raised from taxes could be about $41.5 million, an increase of about $1.4 million, requiring a 3.49 percent increase in the tax rate.

If the budget passes as proposed, the school share of the city’s property tax rate of $18.36 would increase to $12.19 from $11.78.

Kunin said the majority of the increase will be driven by contractual salary obligations for teachers and staff. 

In new positions being proposed, the schools would like to hire a part-time elementary math instructional coach and two part-time van drivers, who would each work 30 hours. 

Kunin will present the proposed budget to the City Council during a public hearing April 5 at City Hall.

School buildings

The School Board is also examining grade configurations and exploring the possibility of moving fifth-grade students to the middle schools, which currently have students from sixth through eighth grades.

Kunin said the elementary schools are crowded, and they would like to explore more options for pre-kindergarten space.

South Portland is also still contemplating whether to build a new middle school or renovate Mahoney and Memorial middle schools.

Kunin has said if the two schools undergo renovations, Mahoney Middle School could receive state funding, but Memorial Middle School renovations would have to be paid for by the city. Combining the two middle schools into one, either at a new site or at an existing site, would receive state funding.  

Mahoney Middle School, at 240 Ocean St., is a 92,000-square-foot building that was built in 1922, and had 309 students as of Oc1. 1, 2016. Memorial Middle School, at 120 Wescott Road, which was built in 1967 and is 94,000 square feet, had 400 students as of October. 

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter@melaniesochan.