April 10, 2013

Teachers at hearing decry plan to cut Portland jobs

The union offers other ways to save so the budget can minimize the impact on Portland students.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND More than 100 teachers turned out Tuesday night for a public hearing on a recommended school budget of almost $98 million that would eliminate as many as 24 jobs in the coming year, among other cuts. 

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More than 100 teachers and interested onlookers fill the room before Tuesday's meeting to discuss cuts to Portland Public Schools.

Noel Gallagher / Staff Writer

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"This could get worse," teachers union President Kathleen Casasa told teachers before the school board meeting at Portland Arts and Technology High School. Administrators have drawn up several "worst-case" scenarios that lay out further cuts.

"One (scenario) brings teacher cuts to well over 50," said Casasa, president of the Portland Educators Association. She gave the board a list of other suggested cuts, including a possible $1 million in savings if the district offered a retirement incentive. She said 105 teachers are eligible for retirement.

The proposed budget for 2013-14 is a 4 percent increase over the $94.2 million approved by voters last year. The school board's Finance Committee finished its work on the budget last week.

The full board considered the proposal Tuesday for the first time.

During the public hearing, more than 20 teachers and parents got up to speak out against the proposed cuts. Some urged the board to restore funding for supplies and positions. 

"I believe you have the responsibility to keep the cuts as far away from the students as possible," said Ericka Lee-Winship, a Portland High School social studies teacher who has two children at Lyseth Elementary School. 

Jessica Marino said she is "very concerned" about cutting the reading teacher position at Longfellow Elementary School, where her child attends school. 

"I cannot imagine what (teachers) are going to do with a child with reading difficulties," said Marino, who is a speech language pathologist and volunteers at Longfellow. "That is absolutely ridiculous to me." 

The proposed budget, totaling almost $98 million, would require the school portion of Portland's property tax rate of $18.82 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to increase from $9.57 to $9.92 -- 3.7 percent.

The 35-cent increase in the tax rate would add $70 to the annual property tax bill for a home valued at $200,000. Portland's overall tax rate also depends on the municipal and county budgets.  

The original budget proposed by Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk called for spending $98.9 million in the year that starts July 1.

The current proposal, drafted by the Finance Committee, shaves the total to nearly $98 million, with $75.2 million coming from property taxes. 

It proposes cutting about 24 jobs, including nine teachers or educational technicians, three assistant principals, six workers in the district's central office, two secretaries and one custodian.

It also calls for $450,000 in further unspecified staff cuts -- the equivalent of about nine more teachers. 

School officials have noted that nonunion employees have agreed to take five furlough days, but the teachers union has not agreed to any concessions. Casasa and other teachers criticized the district Tuesday night for insinuating they are to blame for the budget crisis. 

Catch-up salary increases account for $1.7 million in new costs in the budget. That's because several years ago, during a financial crisis, the union agreed to a contract that put off salary increases to the 2013-14 budget year. 

"You cannot get to the third year of this contract and decide you don't like it," Casasa said, accusing the administration of using "insulting and inflammatory" language to describe the union. 

"We do not think it wise to pass another budget on the backs of labor," Casasa told the board. "You must comb through each item and think, every time you cut $40,000, you have saved a teacher. Every time you cut $20,000, you have saved an ed tech. You must make this budget look lean and mean." 

The school board is expected to vote on the budget later this month, then send it to the City Council for a vote May 6. The budget will go to Portland voters May 14.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:


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