PORTLAND — Eighty-one positions in the city’s public schools would be eliminated by the $92.7 million budget that the superintendent proposed Tuesday night for the coming school year.

Targeted positions include 31 teachers, 38 educational technicians, six administrators, three custodians and one secretary, said Superintendent Jim Morse.

Exactly how many people would be laid off is unclear because 41 school employees have agreed to retire by June under a district-sponsored incentive program, Morse said.

Most of them are professional staff members, he said. Their salaries and benefits total $2.6 million annually, but some of them would be replaced, probably at lower salaries. How much the district would save through the retirements also is unclear.

“This was an extremely difficult budget to prepare,” Morse said before delivering his budget proposal at Casco Bay High School. “Far too many positions will be cut.”

The deadline to accept the retirement incentive was Monday. Morse said he plans to ask the school board to extend the deadline two weeks, in the hope that more of the roughly 200 eligible employees will decide to retire.

Morse’s $92.7 million proposal is $2.8 million more than the $89.9 million budget that voters approved last May for the current school year.

The amount to be raised from property taxes is up nearly $2.7 million – about 4 percent – from $67.4 million for this year to $70 million for 2011-12. That would add an estimated 36 cents to the city’s tax rate of $17.92 per $1,000 of assessed property value, and increase the tax bill on a $200,000 home by $72.

The proposed budget reflects an expected $6 million reduction in state funding no longer provided under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It calls for spending nearly $2 million that the district reserved from last year’s federal jobs bill, and $1.2 million from last year’s budget surplus.

Steven Scharf, a regular budget-watcher, said he’s concerned that spending surplus funds will return the district to a precarious position of spending down the city’s reserves.

Morse’s budget includes $911,000 for salary step increases and $336,000 for requested paid sabbaticals that are required by union contract but subject to ongoing negotiations.

Morse’s budget also would add three multilingual teachers and two elementary world language teachers, plus three grant-funded preschool classes through public-private partnerships.

Jaimey Caron, the school board’s finance committee chairman, noted the superintendent’s courage in pressing forward with the district’s strategic goals while making significant staffing cuts.

Reductions in teaching positions would be concentrated at the high school level, where enrollment is down, and in adult education, where nine full-time positions would become hourly positions.

“It’s a lot of cuts, especially to our ed techs,” said Kathleen Casasa, the teachers union president. “They provide incredible support to our teaching staff. I don’t see how we can provide the same level of service without them.”

Casasa questioned cutting adult education when the program has a waiting list fueled by the city’s growing immigrant community.

Administrative positions proposed for cuts include an adult education coordinator, a special education coordinator and a high school assistant principal.

The district eliminated more than 50 positions last year.

Other than personnel cuts, proposed reductions this year include $50,000 for legal services, $130,000 for year-round secretaries, $25,000 for middle school sports and $75,000 for high school sports.

Morse urged city officials to allow the school district to establish a reserve fund for major capital improvements to address longstanding building needs at Hall Elementary School and other schools.

No public comment was taken Tuesday night. A public hearing on Morse’s budget proposal will be held at 7 p.m. March 15 in Room 250 at Casco Bay High School.

The school board will present its recommended budget to the City Council on April 4.

 

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

 


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