Thursday, April 24, 2014
By Leslie Bridgers firstname.lastname@example.org
SOUTH PORTLAND – The chairman of the South Portland school board will today present the City Council with nearly the budget it asked for – but he's not happy about it.
"We're cutting positions that I'm concerned shouldn't be cut," said Rick Carter, chairman of the Board of Education.
Earlier this year, the City Council told the school board and the city manager not to propose operating budgets with a tax-rate increase greater than 6 cents each per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
City Manager Jim Gailey proposed a $28.8 million budget with exactly that.
The school board plans to offer a $42.9 million budget with operating expenses that would increase the tax rate by 6.5 cents, in addition to an 18-cent increase from the first bond payment for a renovation project at South Portland High School.
"The high school bond is the elephant in the room," Carter said Tuesday.
The renovation project, he said, was pitched to voters as something that wouldn't have a negative impact on the district's operating budget.
"The voters knew what we were getting into," he said.
Now, the council is asking for a minimal increase in the tax rate caused by operating expenses to offset the larger one created by the bond payment, said Carter.
"I think it is going back on what we told the voters," he said.
Since Superintendent Suzanne Godin proposed a $43.2 million budget in March, the board has been debating different cuts to meet the request of the council.
Among them was the high school hockey program, a $34,000 cost that remained in the budget after an outcry from parents.
By last Thursday, the board settled on removing funds for a proposed new position for community communications, a part-time guidance counselor and a part-time guidance clerk.
Losing the two guidance positions, Carter said, "clearly would impact students."
Also to bring down the proposed tax-rate increase, the board decided to spend $875,000 from its undesignated fund balance, which it has been accruing over the past several years. Godin's budget proposed to use $800,000.
Godin budgeted $150,000 to put into a contingency account. The board reduced that to $110,000.
The board also decided to pay part of the maintenance budget by taking $55,000 out of its maintenance reserve account.
In a straw vote Thursday, four of the seven board members, including Carter, supported the changes.
"I think the board has worked very hard to bring in a budget that meets the City Council guidance," Godin said Tuesday.
She doesn't believe the extra half-cent over the City Council's request will make a difference. Mayor Tom Blake didn't return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
The school board will take an official vote on its budget at a meeting at 6 p.m. tonight, just before a City Council public hearing on the school and city budgets at 7 p.m. in City Hall.
The school budget, including the high school bond, and the city budget, as proposed by Gailey, would raise South Portland's tax rate by 35.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation and increase the annual property tax bill on a $200,000 home by $71.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at