Portland voters who went to the polls in a citywide referendum Tuesday approved the school system’s $94.2 million budget for the upcoming school year, 64 percent to 36 percent.

Exactly 1,000 voters approved the budget and 562 voters rejected it.

Mayor Michael Brennan said he is pleased that Portland voters gave their “resounding approval” to the first budget in several years that did not cut staff positions.

The budget provides $4.7 million more spending than the current school budget, an increase of 5.3 percent.

It includes the expansion of Spanish language programs in elementary schools and $100,000 for two new early education classrooms as part of a partnership with the Catherine Morrill Day Nursery and the federal Head Start program.

It also includes a $71,000 increase for English language courses run by Portland Adult Education. Those courses have had a surge in enrollment in recent years, and have a waiting list of 160 people. The additional funding will cut the waiting list in half.

Turnout for the referendum was very low, with just over 3 percent of the city’s 48,528 registered voters going to the polls. The city spent an estimated $18,000 on the election – $11.50 per vote.

State law requires school districts to hold referendums for final budget approval by a majority of voters.

Brennan said he would like to see the law changed so that local boards could decide whether to hold referendums to approve school budgets.

Turnout was higher in Scarborough, where voters Tuesday approved a $32.1 million school budget described by Superintendent George Entwistle as “very credible and very responsive.”

The vote was 683-585, a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent.

In a separate, nonbinding question, voters were asked what they thought of the budget.

Forty-seven percent, 592 voters, said it was “too high.” Twenty-nine percent, 369 voters, said it was “acceptable.” Twenty-four percent, 297 voters, said it was “too low.”

When combined with the $15.7 million municipal spending plan approved earlier this month by the Town Council, the town’s property tax rate is projected to increase by 6.9 percent, from $13.03 per $1,000 valuation to $13.93.

In South Portland, voters Tuesday approved a $39.9 million school budget, with 60 percent voting in favor and 40 percent against.

There were 414 “yes” votes to 277 “no” votes.

The budget eliminates a part-time communications position and stipends for elementary school teacher-leaders, and maintains field trip funding.

 

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