After years of school budgets focused on cutting millions of dollars, Portland Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk is proposing a $102.4 million budget for the 2014-15 school year that has no reduction in staffing and restores some of the cuts made last year.
“We did a lot of hard work this current year, we lost talented staff,” Caulk said, referring to last year’s budget, which cut 36 teachers. “There’s no way we could survive another year of cuts like that.”
Caulk’s budget, presented Tuesday night to the Portland School Board, calls for a 4.5 percent increase over the $98.3 million approved by voters last year.
Much of the budget, which will take effect July 1, is fixed, with about 65 percent of it spent on salaries for the district’s roughly 700 teachers and 60 administrators. The 16-school district has almost 7,000 students. The amount to be raised by taxes is $78 million, up 4.5 percent from $74.7 million this year.
That would increase the schools’ portion of Portland’s property tax rate by 3.7 percent, adding $72.30 to the annual tax bill for a home with an assessed value of $200,000, Caulk said.
Last year, the budget increased the schools’ portion of Portland’s property tax rate by 3 percent, adding $58 to the annual tax bill for a home with an assessed value of $200,000.
Property taxes needed to fund Maine’s largest school district have increased every year for the past five years. Since 2009, the district has eliminated more than 100 positions while state and federal funding have been reduced by millions.
Caulk said he thinks there will be support for the spending increase from the City Council as well as voters, who give final approval to the school budget.
Overall non-property tax revenue is estimated to increase 3 percent, to $24.3 million from $23.6 million last year. Part of that revenue is the state subsidy, which is projected to increase to $16.8 million from $16.4 million.
The precise amount of the state subsidy will not be established until a state budget is passed at the end of the current legislative session.
The proposed budget includes $160,000 for elementary school lunch aides and $150,000 for seventh-grade sports programs, both of which were cut last year.
Among the budget details:
n It shows cost savings of about $250,000 in benefits because of early retirements and the hiring of less-senior teachers, who have lower salaries.
n Elementary schools would get an increase of 3 percent. For individual schools, the changes would range from about a 6 percent increase at the Presumpscot, Reiche and Longfellow schools to a cut of 4.6 percent at Peaks Island Elementary, which has had declining enrollment in recent years.
The three middle schools would get slight increases, from 0.06 percent at Moore Middle School to a 4 percent increase at Lincoln Middle School.
The three high schools and Portland Arts and Technology High School stand to get an increase of 3.5 percent, with the largest increase – 12.4 percent – at Casco Bay High, which will expand and hire more teachers.
n The budget includes $350,000 to replace grant funding and allow a two-year-old pre-kindergarten program to continue.
n The Superintendent’s Office budget would increase from $523,908 to $583,852.
n The Portland Adult Education budget would increase from $1.54 million to $1.55 million.
Flat or declining state funding and rising costs have caused years of difficult budget cycles, with budgets that raise property taxes but still cause significant layoffs.
Caulk also spoke Tuesday about upcoming policy goals for the district, such as exploring how to add online learning options to sync with district programming.
“The education landscape is constantly changing and I want to compete on every front, even if that front is virtual,” Caulk said, noting that state officials recently approved the state’s first virtual charter school.
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:firstname.lastname@example.org