Sunday, March 9, 2014
PORTLAND – The school board will take up a plan next week to cut spending in the proposed 2013-14 school budget by nearly $900,000 and increase non-tax revenues by about $400,000, to limit the property-tax increase needed for schools to about 3.7 percent.
The board's Finance Committee on Thursday approved the outline of budget revisions that will be the subject of a public hearing Tuesday.
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 city voters on May 14.
The original budget proposed by Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk called for spending $98.9 million in the year that starts July 1. That would have required a property-tax increase of 5.7 percent for schools.
Caulk's budget called for cutting about 30 jobs, including nine teachers or educational technicians, three assistant principals, three custodians, six secretaries and six workers in the district's central office.
The Finance Committee restored two of the custodial positions and four secretarial positions, but called for $450,000 in further unspecified staff cuts.
Justin Costa, the committee's chairman, said that cut is the equivalent of about nine teachers.
The committee's plan also calls for eliminating lunch aides to save more than $109,000 and requiring nonunion support staff workers to take five furlough days to save another $106,000.
In all, the committee envisions more than $1 million in cuts, offset partially by higher-than-expected health care premiums and a further decrease of $50,000 in state aid that officials learned about this week.
An analysis also showed a $200,000 increase in the district's expected MaineCare reimbursement. The committee also decided to carry $300,000 more from the current budget year into the next to ease the tax impact.
That produces a final budget proposal of nearly $98 million, with $75.2 million coming from property taxes.
Costa said the 3.7 percent tax increase would be in line with recent increases for the school department and the board wanted to avoid anything bigger.
He said this year's budget process has been complicated because lawmakers in Augusta are still debating a proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to shift some of the funding for teachers' pensions to local budgets and school officials aren't sure how many of their students will go to the state's new charter schools.
School districts pay charter schools for their students who decide to attend the new schools.
There's uncertainty every year, Costa said, "but we've never had anything of this magnitude."
Michael Wilson, the district's chief financial officer, said he feels comfortable with estimates in the budget on state aid, but if the district had to increase overall spending, the matter would go back to the voters in a new referendum.
Jaimey Caron, the school board chairman, said this year is extreme, but there's uncertainty every year.
"There are sort of a lot balls in the air right now," Caron said. "There are still quite a lot of variables."
He said school officials always have to make budget adjustments during the summer to account for shifting enrollments and changes in needs at individual schools.
"Between now and October, there's still a lot of change to be made," he said.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: