PORTLAND — It was a lone voice among many who asked the School Committee on Wednesday evening to preserve a variety of positions and programs that could be cut in the $89.8 million budget proposed for the coming school year.

Caroline Probert questioned whether school officials had considered freezing nearly $1.2 million in contracted salary increases to preserve the elementary band, K-12 strings and other programs that face elimination.

“My husband and I lost our (trucking) business,” said Probert, who has four children in Portland schools. “I’d like to believe we’re all together like a village. That could really save a lot of teachers.”

Probert was among more than 200 parents, students, teachers and others who attended the two-hour budget hearing at Portland Arts and Technology High School.

The subject of a salary freeze likely will come up again before the committee votes on the budget March 31 and delivers it to the City Council on April 5. A citywide referendum on the school budget will be held May 11.

The budget proposed by Superintendent Jim Morse and revised by the School Committee’s finance subcommittee would eliminate most of 80 positions initially targeted for cuts, including 18 locally funded educational technicians.

District officials anticipate an estimated $4 million reduction in state and federal funding in the budget year that starts July 1.

The finance subcommittee’s version of the budget would maintain one sex education teacher who initially would have been laid off. It also calls for hiring 8.5 multilingual teachers, three middle school social studies teachers, two elementary world language teachers, one middle school literacy specialist and one middle school technology aide.

Many people spoke in support of the ed techs and the music programs. Student musicians performed several numbers in the lobby outside the meeting room as people arrived.

“When I play, I feel my heart is soaring on wings,” said Helen Cunningham, a fifth-grader at Presumpscot Elementary School who plays clarinet and viola.

Maryanne Scally McKinnon, an ed tech at Lincoln Middle School and the chief negotiator for the ed techs’ union, urged the committee to preserve some of the 18 positions. She and others noted the necessary work that ed techs do to support students and teachers in effective learning.

“We understand it’s a very difficult budget year,” McKinnon said. “We are very grateful for our low wage.” She said she hopes the district will retain as many ed techs as possible.

School Committee members didn’t discuss the idea of a salary freeze during the budget hearing. However, Kate Snyder, the finance subcommittee’s chairwoman, said after the meeting that she plans to ask the superintendent to float the idea with union leaders.

“I’m hoping that people will be open to discussing the idea, especially if they’re in favor of hiring the staff that people are advocating so strongly for,” Snyder said.

No cost-of-living raises are scheduled in the coming year, but Morse has budgeted about $1.2 million in contracted salary increases for longevity and professional development among teachers, ed techs and principals, Snyder said.

Kathleen Casasa, the teachers union president, said other budget cuts should be considered first. Casasa offered a list of alternative reductions totaling $1 million, including $400,000 from sports and extracurricular activities and $435,000 from administration, especially positions related to Morse’s planned central office reorganization.

“There are many other places to cut before we ask employees to subsidize our school system,” Casasa said outside the hearing. “I think it’s premature.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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