Portland’s school board unanimously backed three resolutions Tuesday, committing the district to being a “safe haven” for all students and families, condemning hate speech and supporting employees’ speaking out on political issues.
“With my whole heart I support all three resolutions,” said Jennifer Boggs, a parent who was one of a half-dozen speakers at a public hearing held before Tuesday night’s board meeting. No one spoke in opposition to the resolutions.
“There’s a real climate of fear, with the Muslim ban, so thank you,” said Boggs, who has a daughter at Longfellow Elementary School. “The message to our Muslim students and students of color is that they are valued and we’ve got their back.”
Board member Jenna Vendil proposed the resolutions after four ninth-graders at Casco Bay High School said a man made racist remarks to them as they waited for a bus in late January, and threatened them with a weapon. A man arrested in connection with the alleged hate crime has pleaded not guilty.
The resolutions do not have the force of policy or regulations, but they are the first step in possible changes, officials said.
The head of Portland’s teachers union applauded the move.
“I’m very proud of my school district tonight,” said Portland Education Association President Sue Olafsen. “During this time of increased uncertainty, I believe it’s important to reaffirm our goals.”
The staff and board members will now review and identify policies, rules or programs that should be updated or developed to reflect the resolutions’ intent.
“These resolutions are incredibly important,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. “They not only reaffirm the Portland Public Schools’ commitment to providing students, families and employees with a safe physical and emotional environment that fosters academic achievement, but they also create meaningful opportunities to engage around the issues the resolutions address.”
$107 MILLION BUDGET PROPOSED
Also Tuesday, Botana presented a $107 million budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1, a 3.3 percent increase from the current $103.6 million budget. It would increase the schools portion of Portland’s property tax rate by 6.5 percent – $67 per $100,000 of assessed value.
The budget would use $750,000 in school and city funds, including $500,000 from the school general fund balance and $250,000 from the food service fund balance.
Botana noted that state funding for schools is still being debated in Augusta and could change. Under Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget, Portland’s allocation would be $2 million less than last year, at $13.5 million.
The governor’s proposal would cut the allocation, in part, by removing state funding for administration, increasing student-to-teacher ratios and removing a declining-enrollment adjustment.
Botana said that if the current state allocation formula remains, Portland will get an additional $1 million, reducing the local tax increase to 5.2 percent.
School and city officials will review and approve the budget before a citywide vote in early May.
Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at: