Portland school board members gave lackluster approval Tuesday to a $105 million budget for the coming year, saying it left out about $400,000 in new programs and delayed their first efforts to implement a comprehensive plan to improve the schools.
“It’s a sad day, honestly. I’m going to commit right now, to all of you, that I’m a huge advocate for those things that have been cut,” board member Marnie Morrione said. “With a heavy heart, I will vote in favor of this, but not willingly.”
The board voted 7-2 in favor of the budget for the year starting July 1, with members Laurie Davis and Holly Seeliger in opposition.
Davis said she did not agree with some of the decisions, while Seeliger noted the budget eliminates a fashion design program at Portland Arts and Technology High School.
The budget, which has a 2.75 percent tax increase, now goes to the City Council before it goes to voters on the June ballot. The only change the board made Tuesday was to add $200,000 for crossing guards, after the city moved that expense off its budget last week.
As Superintendent Xavier Botana cut the budget to lower the tax impact, he removed about $400,000 in funding for new programs that were part of the school board’s long-term comprehensive plan to improve the district.
Those funds would have paid for, among other things, a new math director; a “New Arrivals Center” program to help immigrant, non-English speaking middle school and high school students adjust to school; a new literacy program for elementary school students who speak a language other than English at home, and district funding for a college prep program for new Mainers called Make it Happen.
During the public comment period, several people urged the board to support the Make It Happen program, which is supported by donations and grants now.
Board member Jenna Vendil said those cuts were “the biggest disappointment” in the budget.
“We are so close,” Vendil said, noting it amounted to only a fraction of the total budget. “I can live with my vote supporting this budget because I don’t think this ends here.”
Several factors drove up costs for the district. Expenditures are up 4.5 percent from the current budget, 80 percent of that due to a $3.8 million increase in salary and benefits required by contract. At the same time, Portland’s state allocation is down $2 million from this year, to $13.5 million, under Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget, which is still being debated by the Legislature.
The budget assumes the district will get an additional $1 million in state funds.
Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at: