PORTLAND – Even as school officials sought the City Council’s support Tuesday for a $90 million budget that would cut 45 positions, they had more bad news to deliver: The district will lose about $600,000 in federal money it expected for improving basic skills of poor children.

Program changes at the federal level have left fewer dollars for Portland, Superintendent Jim Morse told the council’s Finance Committee.

The cuts would fall hardest on King Middle School, which would lose $224,000 in the year starting July 1, and East End Community School, which would lose $201,000. The other affected schools are Lincoln Middle School, Riverton School, Reiche Community School and Presumpscot Elementary School.

The funding comes from the federal government’s Title 1 program, which distributes funding to schools and school districts with high percentages of students from low-income families.

Morse said the loss of funding could force the elimination of 12 more jobs. Rather than target schools in poor neighborhoods, he said, the reductions could be absorbed throughout the school system so that funding for a portion of the literacy programs could be preserved. He told city councilors that property taxes could also be raised to make up the difference.

Morse said his staff learned of the reduction last week, a week after the School Committee approved a 2010-11 budget that would preserve sports and music programs that were initially targeted for cuts.

Although the budget would eliminate 64 jobs, it contains 19 new positions, including middle school teachers, multilingual teachers and world language teachers.

Even with the job cuts, the budget would require nearly $800,000 more from property taxes, a 1.3 percent increase over this year’s budget, and add 11 cents to Portland’s tax rate. That would increase taxes on a $200,000 home by $22.

Finance Committee member John Anton said at Tuesday’s meeting that he will support the School Committee’s budget and said the school district should consider using reserve funds for some of its capital costs.

Other councilors, including Finance Committee members and several other councilors who attended the meeting, did not indicate how they would vote.

However, the meeting was cordial, and councilors made a point of telling School Committee members how much they respected their deliberative budget process.

After the meeting, Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. said most councilors would like to see the budget reduced more.

“My sense is that people want the budget lower than it is,” he said, “but it will be hard to get it down to zero” percent tax increase.

The Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on the budget at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Room 209 at City Hall.

The City Council has the final say over the budget before it goes to voters on May 11.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]