Budgets are more than just a list of figures. They are also the way organizations say what’s really important.

The Portland School Committee, together with Superintendent Jim Morse, has come up with a budget that not only addresses the economic realities of the present, but tells people of the city where its schools are headed.

It is a good budget written in a challenging time and voters should support it in the referendum vote Tuesday.

Like every other public institution during this recession, Portland’s public schools were facing major revenue losses. In this case it was cutbacks in state funding totaling $4.5 million.

The School Committee stayed away from across-the-board cuts and looked for strategic savings.

They cut $1 million from the special education budget after an outside consultant analyzed the department and determined that the city was spending too much.

But they didn’t just cut. In addition to eliminating 60 jobs throughout the system, the budget creates 15.5 new positions, and includes a plan to bring back foreign language instruction to the elementary schools and to adequately meet the needs of English language learners.

Also in the budget is funding for an evaluative study of Portland’s athletic and co-curricular programs and another on its academic programs, along the lines of the special education study done last year.

Like that study, these promise to provide a framework for discussions on what are always emotion-laden topics. It will be important to have that information next year, when the loss of federal stimulus funds promises to be more severe than the loss of state funding was this year.

This budget calls for a 1 percent tax increase, which is reasonable under the circumstances.

Voters should balance the increase in their tax burden against the damage that could result from even deeper cuts to the school budget. Since the budget crisis of 2007, the School Committee and administration have been very successful in bringing the department back into fiscal order.

With this budget, they have shown that they can not only respond to a crisis, but build for better times ahead.