PORTLAND – School Committee leaders made their opening pitch to the City Council on Monday night for a $90 million budget proposal that would increase equity among the city’s public schools, reinstate an elementary world language program and provide more teachers for students who are learning to speak English.

The spending plan for the budget year starting July 1 also would eliminate more than 60 jobs, while it would preserve sports, music and other programs and positions that initially were targeted for cuts.

“It doesn’t contain surprises and it reflects very careful, thoughtful work,” Kate Snyder, chairwoman of the school finance subcommittee, told the council.

The council forwarded the school budget proposal to its finance committee without discussion. The committee will hold a public hearing on the proposal on April 15 at City Hall.

The proposed school budget would require $797,000 more in property taxes than this year’s budget and add 11 cents to the tax rate.

The council’s finance committee had urged school officials to pass a budget with no tax increase because many Portland residents have experienced economic setbacks. If the council decides to reduce the school budget, many programs and positions that have been spared could be back on the chopping block.

Those decisions would be left to the School Committee, because the council has authority only over the bottom line.

“The discussion will likely revolve around many of the topics we’ve already discussed,” said School Committee Chairman Peter Eglinton after the council meeting. “Those are positions or programs we know a great deal about and have already considered in depth.”

The proposed school budget would, among other things:

• Eliminate 64 positions, about half of which will be vacant because of retirements. Total estimated savings: $3.2 million.

• Preserve several unidentified positions, possibly educational technicians, that were targeted for cuts. Total cost: $180,000.

• Create 15.5 locally funded teaching positions, including multilingual teachers, middle school social studies teachers and elementary Spanish teachers. Total cost: $755,000.

• Preserve middle and high school sports programs, elementary band and orchestra programs and a sex education teaching position, all of which were targeted to be cut. Total cost: $535,000.

Snyder noted that the 2010-11 school budget proposal is nearly $1.3 million — 1.4 percent — less than the $91.3 million school budget that the council approved last spring for 2009-10.

However, the 2010-11 budget proposal is now $1.4 million more than the 2009-10 spending plan, which was reduced to $88.6 million after a $2.7 million mid-year reduction in state aid.

The proposed school budget accounts for an estimated $1.5 million reduction in state and federal funding in the coming year, and anticipates an additional loss of $3.7 million in 2011-12, said Herb Hopkins, the schools’ business manager.

After Superintendent Jim Morse proposed his 2010-11 budget to the School Committee in March, Gov. John Baldacci announced that Portland would get an additional $1.6 million in state aid. The committee decided to spend $829,000 of it on school programs and dedicate the rest to property tax relief, committee members said.

Also on Monday night, City Manager Joe Gray presented a $196 million municipal budget proposal to the council. That budget would increase spending on city services by $7 million and require $900,000 more in property taxes.

It would cut 40 jobs, raise trash disposal fees, kill a popular parking ticket forgiveness program, close three public library branches and eliminate Fourth of July fireworks.

Combined, the proposed school and city budgets and county taxes would add 23 cents to Portland’s property tax rate, increasing it to $17.97 per $1,000 of valuation.

The annual tax bill on a $200,000 home would increase $46.

A referendum on the school budget will be held May 11. A public hearing and a final council vote on the combined school and municipal budgets will be held May 17.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]


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