May 13, 2013

Portland mayor, school superintendent urge passage of $96.4M budget

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Mayor Michael Brennan and school Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk urged residents during a news conference Monday to vote in support of the $96.4 million school budget proposed for next year.

Portland's citywide school budget referendum is scheduled for Tuesday.

The proposed budget would increase the school's portion of property taxes by 3 percent, from $9.57 to $9.86 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, while cutting dozens of positions.

The school budget, as proposed, would add about $60 to the annual tax bill for a home with an assessed value of $200,000.

Voters also will be asked if they want to continue holding annual referendum votes on school spending.

"I hope the citizens of Portland show strong support for the budget, but (that) they also decide to discontinue the referendum process." Brennan said.

Flanked by a diverse student body at East End Community School, Brennan and Caulk touted the positive aspects of the proposed school budget.

"The district continues its commitment to lifelong learning," Caulk said.

Caulk said the budget maintains funding for pre-kindergarten programs and adult education. It also preserves middle school class sizes and the "house" system that helps educators better track student achievement.

The budget invests in science, technology, engineering and math, as well as arts and foreign language, he said.

But the budget also includes deep cuts in an effort to cover nearly $8 million in cost increases, including $1.7 million in salary increases for teachers.

Nearly 50 full-time positions are on the chopping block. Additional cuts may be needed if several state budget proposals are approved by the Legislature, including shifting teacher pension costs to municipalities.

For Portland, the pension proposal would add $1.3 million in costs that are not currently in the budget.

While Brennan asked residents to support the school budget, he also asked they vote against continuing the school budget referendum process.

The budget referendum is required under the Maine School Administrative Reorganization Law as a way to increase transparency and accountability. Every three years, voters can decide whether to keep the process. Voters were last asked in 2010, and the referendum was maintained by roughly a dozen votes.

Brennan said the city elects school officials to draft budgets. Last year, only 10 percent of voters turned out. The city spends between $13,000 and $15,000 on the election.

"For the state to impose a referendum process on the city, it's a needless expenditure and a needless process," Brennan said. 

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