PORTLAND – Several school board members say the new superintendent must cut another $1.5 million from the proposed budget for 2013-14 so they can move forward.
“We need a recommendation,” board Chairman Jaimey Caron said Thursday night. “We’re running out of time. I know there are a lot of options, so we need to have a preferred plan, and we can always adjust it on the fly.”
Superintendent Manny Caulk has proposed a $98.9 million budget, a 5 percent increase over the $94.2 million approved by voters last year. Although he proposed $3.4 million in specific cuts, he asked the board to identify another $1.5 million in cuts for a budget of $97.4 million, which would require a 3.7 percent increase in the school portion of the property tax.
“We’ll go back at it. We’ll revisit the choices,” Caulk said Thursday after hearing from the board. “All of these choices were tough.”
His proposed budget already includes 30 layoffs, including nine teachers or ed techs, three assistant principals, six secretaries and three custodians. Six people are to be laid off in the district’s central office, including at least one chief officer.
Several board members asked for more information about those staff cuts, particularly since they include English language learner ed techs and reading teachers and the board has specifically beefed up literacy efforts in recent years.
“We want to understand that it’s not creating an inequity in the system,” Caron said. “I need a more convincing rationale for the budget.”
The superintendent is also proposing an increase in class sizes, which prompted several questions. Caulk told the board that Portland’s class size is still well in line with the national average.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average U.S. class size in 2007–08 was 20 pupils for public elementary schools and 23.4 pupils for public secondary schools.
In Portland, elementary school class sizes range from 18-to-1 at Hall and Presumpscot to 21-to-1 at Longfellow, Lyseth and Reiche.
Board members said the public would likely have the same questions.
“For me to vote for a budget, I need to understand it,” Sarah Thompson said. “The public looks at this budget and says, ‘Holy tamale!’ Some of the (questions) we have are basic, but they are things that will help people vote for our budget.”
School officials say they are looking at cost increases of $8 million this year, including almost $2 million in unanticipated costs: a shift in teacher retirement costs from the state, and lost revenue as Portland students go to a charter school that’s due to open in the fall.
Catch-up salary increases account for another $1.7 million in new costs.
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:
Note: This story was updated at 9:15 a.m. on April 2, 2013, to include national statistics on class size and to clarify that the school budget would require an increase in the school portion of the property tax.