South Portland voters approve $40M school budget

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Voters on Tuesday approved the nearly $40 million operating budget for the School Department’s 2013 fiscal year in a 413-277 vote.

The budget represents a nearly 1.8 percent increase in operating costs, or about a 4.4 percent increase in property taxes paid by residents.

City Councilors have not approved the municipal side of the budget that takes effect July 1. But if it’s passed as proposed, the average South Portland homeowner can expect to pay about $100 more in taxes next year; about $83 of that increase comes from additional taxes for education.

“I think (the budget) is reasonable,” said Roann Harlow, a resident who went to the polls around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Harlow said that even with her property tax set to increase, she found the budget palatable.

“My daughter went through the South Portland school system,” she said. “I know this budget is pretty tight.”

Voter turnout was low, about 3.7 percent of all eligible voters, but that’s no cause for alarm, City Clerk Sue Mooney said.

“Any special elections usually have a lower turnout,” she said Tuesday.

The School Board faced a large revenue shortfall in planning for fiscal 2013. Over the past four years, federal stimulus and Jobs Bill funds have filled budget gaps to the tune of $4.8 million. This year, the district received $1.6 million in federal funding.

In the upcoming fiscal year, that funding disappears. There is an increase in state subsidy, from $2.1 million this year to an expected $3.1 million next year, but total state-and-federal aid is still down by more than $600,000.

The School Board had originally proposed a 2.2 percent increase, but carved off $136,000 in spending after the City Council said the increase was too big. 

The budget cuts four positions – a warehouse clerk, two library clerks and a high school science teacher – but funds 35 positions that were previously paid with federal stimulus and Jobs Bill funds. It also creates an additional clerk at Small Elementary School, where attendance is high, and a curriculum director to help South Portland adopt the Common Core education standards. 

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.