March 7, 2012

$94.9 million school budget proposed in Portland

The city's superintendent lays out his spending plan, which involves few job cuts and is up $5.5 million from this year.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Superintendent Jim Morse presented his final budget for Portland schools Tuesday night, a $94.9 million spending plan that calls for a minimal number of job reductions and even a few added positions.

Among the highlights

The superintendent’s proposed 2012-13 budget for Portland schools would:

Maintain current staffing, after three years of significant reductions in the work force.

Include $524,000 as the first expenditure in a four-year plan aimed at upgrading the district’s technology.

Require a 3.65 percent increase in property taxes – $85 a year on a $250,000 home.

Fund a total of eight half- and full-time positions, including an occupational therapist, a van driver and a full-time assistant principal at Ocean Avenue Elementary School.

Expand world languages to grade 5.

Continue high school reform efforts by allowing students to participate in internships and job shadowing.

Increase the number of students in the early-childhood program from 69 to 150.

Morse plans to leave his post at the end of this school year to become superintendent for the Oyster River Cooperative School District in Durham, N.H.

In the coming weeks, his proposed budget – up from this year's $89.4 million budget – will be reviewed by the school board's Finance Committee before it is presented to the school board, the City Council and, ultimately, voters in May.

Morse said his proposal calls for a reduction of just eight positions and would require a 3.65 percent increase in property taxes – an additional $85 a year for the owner of a $250,000 house.

"The last three budgets have been draconian. This is a reasonable budget," Morse said in an interview before his presentation. "I think this is the type of budget that doesn't fill the gym with angry parents. It's the one that people will finally say, 'It's about time.'"

School board members did not respond to the superintendent's budget. They accepted his proposal before announcing a series of budget workshops and public hearings, beginning tonight with a workshop at Casco Bay High School.

The first public hearing is scheduled for March 13. A second public hearing will be held March 20.

Since 2009, the school system has lost more than $12 million in revenue, including state budget cuts, a $1.2 million loss in MaineCare revenue and more than $2 million in federal aid.

"The recession has been long-lasting and has had a dramatic impact on Portland's public schools," Morse told the school board. As a result, the district had to cut more than 100 jobs.

Morse said he did everything he could to stem the loss of jobs.

His 2012-13 budget calls for the elimination of eight positions. Last year's budget called for the elimination of about 50 positions.

The proposed reductions for 2012-13 would affect four classroom teachers and four educational technicians. The teachers' positions were funded for one year with grants and federal money.

Morse said he received requests from department heads for 73 new positions. He reduced those requests to what amounts to a total of eight new positions, including a full-time occupational therapist.

Morse's budget also calls for an expansion of the world language program to fifth grade, a task force to look at replacing the Hall School and a half-million dollars to begin a four-year effort to upgrade the school system's technology.

Morse said the school district will continue to explore ways to reduce costs. One proposal calls for a task force to determine whether the city and the school system should consolidate their information technology divisions.

Morse also cited the Riverton and East End Community schools, where students' math and reading test scores have increased steadily since 2009. Morse said poverty is a major issue for students at both schools.

"When people say to us can we make a difference in the lives of poor children or the immigrant community, we can now say, 'Yes we can,' " Morse said.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: dhoey@pressherald.com

 

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