PORTLAND – City voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved an $89.9 million school budget for the coming year and narrowly decided to continue the annual referendum on education spending.

The vote was 1,697 to 682 in favor of the 2010-11 school budget — a comfortable 71 percent approval, according to City Clerk Linda Cohen.

Voters also were asked if they wanted to continue the annual referendums, which started two years ago under the state’s school consolidation law.

The vote was 1,192 to 1,179 in favor of continuing the annual school budget vote, Cohen said.

“It shows that the municipality is really divided on whether they want to do this every year,” Cohen said.

The school budget questions were decided by 2,381 voters — about 5 percent of Portland’s 47,000 active registered voters, Cohen said.

Each school budget referendum costs Portland taxpayers $20,000. City and school officials say the vote must be held in early May so that if it fails, there is time for another vote before the new budget year starts July 1.

Turnout for the past two school budget referendums was equally low, with similar results.

In 2009, voter turnout was 4.6 percent, with 81 percent of voters supporting the budget. In 2008, turnout was 8.5 percent, with 65 percent approving the budget.

If voters had decided to do away with the referendum, it could only have been brought back by petition after three years. Voters will be asked again in 2013 if they would like to do away with the annual school budget vote.

The City Council unanimously approved the $89.9 million school budget last week.

Voters actually approved the $81.5 million portion of the budget that includes spending overseen by the state. The rest is for adult education and food services.

“It’s a really strong vote of confidence in the vision that the School Committee and the superintendent have for the district,” said Justin Costa, a committee member who was at City Hall as votes were counted.

The budget will raise the amount of property taxes needed for Portland public schools by 1 percent, to $66.7 million for the year that starts July 1.

It also will eliminate 60 jobs and create 15.5 new positions, including two world language teachers for elementary schools and 8.5 other teaching positions.

The 2010-11 school budget is nearly $1.4 million — 1.5 percent — less than the $91.3 million school budget that the council approved last spring for 2009-10.

However, the 2010-11 budget is $1.3 million more than the actual 2009-10 spending plan, which was reduced to $88.6 million following a $2.7 million midyear reduction in state aid.

 

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

[email protected]