Portland voters overwhelmingly approved a $96.3 million school budget Tuesday for the coming fiscal year, with nearly 70 percent backing the spending plan.

The vote was 1,033 to 459 in an expectedly low turnout, with only 2.8 percent of the city’s 52,545 registered voters going to the polls, said City Clerk Katherine Jones.

Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk thanked voters for supporting a budget that will retain all locally funded positions and allow the district to focus on four strategic priorities: strengthening the core academic program, stimulating progress for all learners, driving innovation and investing in school infrastructure.

“This budget helps move us forward toward our goal of becoming the best small urban school district in the country by 2017,” Caulk said in a news release.

School Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson thanked the teachers’ union for sending out an election reminder encouraging members to support the budget. While voter turnout was low, Thompson said she was grateful for the approval.

“I hope those who are silent think we’re doing a good job,” Thompson said.

Tuesday’s referendum cost $20,000, Jones said. Under state law, districts must vote every three years on whether to continue holding annual school budget votes. Portland voters last decided to continue referendums in 2013, when 2,265 voters went to the polls.

Endorsed by the City Council last week, the school budget for 2014-15 comprises $76.4 million covered by property taxes, $16 million from state subsidies and $3.9 million from other revenue sources.

The total of $101.6 million – including $5.3 million that wasn’t subject to voters’ approval – represents a 3.3 percent increase over the current school budget, which ends June 30.

Neither the school budget nor Portland’s proposed $221 million municipal budget was contentious this year.

The school budget requires no teacher layoffs and will actually add positions at Casco Bay High School to accommodate additional enrollment. The school budget will also provide more funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs; offset some cuts made during last year’s budget review; and increase the total spent on adult education.

The combined municipal and school budget, totaling $322.6 million, would increase Portland’s property tax rate 3 percent, from $19.41 to $20 per $1,000 of assessed value. The annual tax bill on the average home, assessed at $227,000, would increase $134, from $4,406 to $4,540.

The City Council is set to vote Monday on the proposed municipal budget, which calls for adding the equivalent of 18 full-time employees, including three positions funded by grants or other programs.

New positions include a school resource police officer at Cheverus High School, a grant-funded drug detective, an ordinance enforcement officer, a park ranger and a transportation policy analyst.

The municipal budget plan also calls for increased building permit fees and higher parking fines.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

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