It was only three years ago, when Portland was reeling from a self-inflicted fiscal crisis.

Before the economic collapse that squashed state and local revenue collections, Portland school officials were trying – and failing — to explain how they’d overspent their budget by nearly $2 million, making it abundantly clear that the people in charge had a very vague idea of how much money they had going in and how much was going out.

year end, the district was looking for a new superintendent and business manager, and in the middle of a turnover on the school committee.

This year, the news is much different. Despite a tough budget year, in which budget cuts and layoffs were needed to respond to cuts of promised funding from the state, the school budget actually appears to have closed with a surplus of about $1 million.

That can be attributed in a part to low energy costs and a mild winter, but the budget has also benefitted from good management, including refinancing the school department’s debt and a school nutrition program that turned a profit.

At the same time, the district has been able to address neglected needs, even while cuts were made.

Next September, the new Ocean Avenue School will open its doors to teachers and students from the Back Cove neighborhoods.

Not all the news is good. The city has been able to use federal stimulus funds to ride out the loss of state support, but that will run out after this school year. This year’s surplus will be used to smooth out the loss of $6 million from the feds.

But the current group of administrators and elected officials have already shown that they are capable of managing the district’s finances during a challenging times. That has earned them the confidence of the public, which has approved the last three budgets at referendum.

Three years ago the loss of faith was as bad as the budget overage, which ended up being about 3 percent of what had been approved.

The current people in charge of the school budget, from Superintendent Jim Morse to the members of the school board, appear to have been straight with us about the challenges they face, and have our confidence when the next year unfolds.