PORTLAND — Opponents of a nearly $500,000 cut to adult education packed a public hearing Tuesday evening on Portland’s proposed $92.7 million budget for the coming school year.

When Ayesha Baye came from Ethiopia to the United States in 1996, she couldn’t read, write or speak English, she told the school board. Today, Baye is a customer service manager at Key Bank, where she has worked for seven years.

Baye, 34, credited Portland Adult Education with giving her the skills she needed to succeed and advance in her career and in her new home.

“My communication skills have developed greatly,” Baye said during the hearing at Casco Bay High School. “Words cannot express how this (cut) will affect me and many others.”

More than 200 people attended the 90-minute hearing, and dozens spoke in defense of various programs targeted for cuts. The cuts include the graphic arts and dance programs at Portland Arts and Technology High School; music, librarian, social worker, family living, special education teachers and guidance positions; and 38 education technician jobs.

Superintendent Jim Morse has recommended a budget for the year starting July 1 that would eliminate 84 positions across the district.

Twenty-three positions would be eliminated because of declining enrollment, 18 because of program changes and 43 because of revenue reductions. The district is projected to lose 115 students next year, when enrollment will drop from 7,032 to 6,917.

Morse also plans to reduce the $2.3 million adult education budget by $488,000.

He intends to save about $314,000 by replacing 8.5 teachers, with a total of $595,000 in annual salaries and benefits under the teachers’ union contract. He would hire non-union instructors, who would be paid $27 an hour and no benefits, for a total annual expense of $281,000.

Morse has said that all of the proposed cuts are difficult, but he cannot maintain the adult education program at the expense of pre-kindergarten through high school programs.

Arline Saturdayborn, one of 35 hourly instructors who work for Portland Adult Education, spoke against the superintendent’s plan to eliminate contracted teachers. She said contracted teachers provide the curriculum and oversight necessary to a quality adult education program.

“They are the bones and the spine of the program,” Saturdayborn said. “Because of the work that the contracted teachers do, I’m part of a professional community.”

Kathleen Casasa, president of the teachers’ union, said her organization is fighting the removal of adult education teachers from the contract.

“We brought them into our organization in 1998 because we share the same professional responsibilities and credentials,” Casasa said. “We don’t want to lose a whole bargaining group.”

Jo Coyne, who lives in the West End, urged school officials to consider consolidating Portland’s three middle schools and three high schools into two each to save money. “As a taxpayer, we cannot afford (three of each),” Coyne said.

Steven Scharf, a State Street resident, said the proposed budget won’t “fly” with taxpayers at the polls on May 10 because the amount to be raised from property taxes is up nearly $2.7 million — about 4 percent — from $67.4 million for this year to $70 million for 2011-12.

That would add an estimated 36 cents to the city’s tax rate of $17.92 per $1,000 of assessed property value, and increase the annual tax bill on a $200,000 home by $72.

The proposed budget reflects an expected $6 million reduction in state funding, no longer provided under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It calls for spending nearly $2 million that the district reserved from last year’s federal jobs bill, and $1.2 million from last year’s budget surplus.

Morse’s budget includes about $1 million for salary step and professional development increases, and $336,000 for requested paid sabbaticals. Both are subject to ongoing contract negotiations.

Morse’s budget also would add three multilingual teachers and two elementary world language teachers, plus three grant-funded preschool classes through public-private partnerships.

Administrative positions proposed for cuts include one of two adult education directors, a special education assistant director, a high school assistant principal and a multilingual administrator.

The district has fewer than 1,200 employees, and eliminated more than 50 positions last year.

The school board will vote on the budget March 29 and present it to the City Council on April 4.

 

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