As proposed, South Portland’s combined budgets top $95 million.

Few people turned out to speak at the public hearing on South Portland’s proposed $95.2 million combined budget last week, and of those that did, the majority spoke passionately in support of the school budget.

During the April 1 meeting, City Manager Jim Gailey said the new fiscal year budget represents an increase in spending of $3.1 million and that residents could see a tax rate increase of 62 cents per $1,000 of valuation.

He said the council would finalize the 2015-2016 spending package in June, and between now and then, he said, “there is still a lot of discussion” that will take place.

That discussion includes a council budget workshop on Monday, April 13, and a joint meeting between the City Council and the Board of Education on April 27.

In presenting the school budget last week, Dick Matthews, chairman of the school board, said the total spending stands at $46 million, which is an increase of $1.2 million, or 3.55 percent.

Matthews called the school budget deliberations “a difficult process” and said that of the 12 position cuts recommended by Superintendent Suzanne Godin, the board put five back in at a cost of nearly $389,000.

Gailey called the municipal budget “lean and mean,” with not a lot of new requests being brought forward. In all, the municipal spending is up nearly $850,000.

Gailey said the goal of the budget is to “keep services at an acceptable level,” while also “continuing to explore efficiencies.” He said there is still “a lot of work to be done” before the final vote is held.

Mayor Linda Cohen said last week’s meeting was designed to allow the public to have input on the budget, but she also emphasized that “we have just started the budget process.”

Cohen also reminded residents that when it comes to the school budget, the council will only approve a bottom-line amount. How that money gets spent is up to the school board.

Speaking in favor of the proposed school budget, parent Erin O’Connor Jones called it “very fair,” and said the budget sent to the City Council by the school board “takes into consideration the needs of students.”

Jones added that “nothing in the budget is extra,” while advocating for the schools to keep the library clerks and a literacy teacher position that were on the chopping block until the school board put them back in.

Parent Jennifer Christiansen agreed with Jones, and called the school budget as sent to the City Council “fair and reasonable” and one that is “best for all students.”

James Gilboy, a member of the school board, also spoke in favor of the school portion of the proposed budget, saying that it was “developed based on the needs of the school system” and represents a “balancing act.”

He added, “We are spending our money wisely and only requesting what the students need.”

Rick Carter, another member of the school board, also spoke last week and called both the school and municipal budgets “fair and reasonable.”

In other news, the school board is expected to hire Ken Kunin as the new superintendent of schools in South Portland when it meets at 7 p.m. on Monday.

And, at its meeting this week, the City Council gave unanimous approval to a requested zone change that would allow the redevelopment of the historic armory in Mill Creek.


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