PORTLAND — School officials have two months to figure out how to address a $4 million revenue shortfall in next year’s school budget, Superintendent Jim Morse said Tuesday evening.

“That’s a pretty bleak picture,” Morse said, but he wanted to be clear about the obstacles ahead so that no one is surprised.

Morse outlined the district’s financial challenges at the Board of Public Education’s first budget hearing of the season. A handful of residents and several school administrators attended the meeting at King Middle School.

Morse didn’t mention layoffs, but he has said that a large reduction in the budget could force the elimination of as many as 80 positions.

Morse and the school board are preparing a budget for the year starting July 1. He said the 2011-12 budget likely will be lower than the current $89.3 million budget because the district anticipates a $4 million reduction in federal funding as economic recovery money runs out.

How much less depends on what happens in Augusta in the next several months, Morse said. He suggested that the state’s school funding formula could be adjusted to recognize the higher costs Portland has because of its large multilingual immigrant community.

Ken Farber, the father of two students in the city’s public schools, was one of four residents who spoke at the hearing.

Farber said Portland’s legislative delegation should submit a bill rewarding Maine communities that welcome immigrants. He also asked school officials to seek creative solutions when negotiating new contracts with school employees in the coming months.

Cathy Hodson, another parent, urged school officials to avoid cutting the district’s sex education program any further, and to preserve sports programs as an important part of education.

Michael Nicolai said parents should help the district keep costs down by participating in their children’s education, as he did when he was raising his son.

Steven Scharf said school officials should take care to pass a “responsible” budget if they want voters to approve it on May 10. He also said the district should close the Cliff Island Elementary School, which has about three students and a $117,000 annual budget.

The superintendent is scheduled to recommend a budget to the school board on March 1. The board will vote on the budget March 29 and present it to the City Council on April 4.

Budget concerns, questions or suggestions may submitted through the district’s website, portlandschools.org.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]