PORTLAND – Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk proposed a $98.9 million budget for the 2013-14 school year, a 5 percent increase over the $94.2 million budget approved by voters last year.
“(The budget) presents certain challenges and barriers, but I submit to you that we can find a way past those barriers and still find a path forward,” said Caulk, who presented his budget to the Portland School Committee on Tuesday night. “This is a very difficult budget.”
Caulk outlined $3.4 million in specific cuts, but said he is seeking another $1.5 million in unspecified cuts to bring the budget to a target amount of $97.4 million, which would require a 3.7 percent increase in the school portion of the property tax.
“There’s still clearly a significant amount of work that needs to be done,” said Justin Costa, chairman of the school board’s Finance Committee.
School officials say they are looking at cost increases of $8 million this year, $1.5 million of which result from a LePage administration proposal in the biennial budget to shift teacher retirement costs from the state to local school districts.
Catch-up salary increases account for another $1.7 million in new costs. Several years ago, in the midst of another financial crisis, the union agreed to a contract that put off salary increases to the 2013-14 budget year.
Kathleen Casasa, the president of the teachers union, said it was too early to speculate where the cuts would fall within the school staff. In the meantime, she said the teachers wanted to work with school officials to lobby the Legislature to increase state funding to schools in the upcoming budget.
“There are so many moving parts, it’s hard to get a handle on it,” she said. “The hard work is now.”
The current $94.2 million school budget provided $4.7 million in additional spending over the 2011-12 budget, an increase of 5.3 percent. That budget expanded Spanish classes in elementary school, new pre-kindergarten programs and an increase in funding for adult education.
Caulk said his budget proposal would preserve all those programs.
For a home valued at $200,000, Caulk’s proposed target budget of $97.5 million would add $70.64 to the tax bill.
The school board and City Council must approve the budget before it goes to voters.
Property taxes needed to fund Maine’s largest school district have increased every year for the past four years. Since 2009, the district has eliminated more than 100 positions and lost millions in state and federal funds.
Among the budget details:
n Schools: The schools generally saw budget increases between 1 and 6 percent, although Presumpscot is scheduled to get an 11 percent increase. Three schools face budget cuts: Peaks Island by 10 percent, Riverton by 1.4 percent and Reiche by 0.6 percent. Peaks Island is seeing a sharp decline in enrollment, Caulk said.
• Superintendent: The Superintendent’s Office budget is increased by 31 percent, from $500,401 to $655,169.
• The Portland Adult Education budget increased 2.9 percent, from $1.55 million to $1.6 million.
• Sports: Officials are cutting seventh-grade sports and replacing them with intramural sports.
• Sex education: The budget continues to fund the Family Living instructor.
About 30 people attended the presentation, but only one person spoke during the public comment period, to say the budget should show the district has declining enrollment.
Also Tuesday, Caulk announced the creation of a “Superintendent’s Scorecard,” to be posted on the district website. Among the data tracked will be student test scores, attendance levels, the percentage of students completing job shadows or internships and the percentage of students enrolled in honors or Advanced Placement courses. The scorecard will show current figures, the superintendent’s target and whether the goal has been met.
“We need to hold ourselves accountable. I need to hold myself accountable,” he said.
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:
Clarification: This story was updated at 1:30 p.m., April 2, 2013, to clarify that the school budget would require an increase in the school portion of the property tax.