With the new state budget finalized, the South Portland School Department is expecting to receive $844,204 more in general aid to education.

On Monday, the City Council approved using $480,000 of that new money to help offset the tax rate for the current fiscal year. Meanwhile, the school department will keep the remaining $364,205 for future expenses.

During a workshop between the City Council and the Board of Education last week, Greg L’Heureux, the city’s finance director, said the additional funds would mean that residents would see a 33-cent tax rate increase per $1,000 of valuation.

For a home valued at $200,000, that would equal an additional $66 for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, L’Heureux added.

Since voters have already approved a school spending package for the current year, Assistant Superintendent Kathy Germani said the schools would not be able to use any of the additional funds now.

However, in the words of Councilor Claude Morgan, the school department can “sock it away for future expenses,” which could include building maintenance needs, new buses and updating technology, according to Germani.

She said school leaders have also discussed setting aside some of the additional money received from the state to offset any future bonds for new middle school construction.

But, Germani said, a middle school facilities committee now at work likely wouldn’t have a recommendation on whether to build a new, combined middle school in the city until sometime next year.

And, in the meantime, she said, the schools are “woefully under-funded in terms of maintenance” and Rafe Forland, the school department’s finance director, said buying new laptops for students could cost as much as $200,000 to $250,000 during the next couple years.

In addition, Forland said the school department would like to be able to purchase two new school buses a year, which would mean the fleet would have “a better average age and mileage.”

Overall, Forland said it would be up to the school board’s discretion to decide how the money could be best spent.

All the councilors present at the July 15 workshop expressed gratitude to the school board for its willingness to return some of the extra funding for taxpayer relief.

Morgan called the state budget process “a ridiculous rollercoaster ride” but added he was “very pleased” with the school board’s action, calling it the “correct course,” as well as “very prudent and thoughtful.”

Councilor Maxine Beecher said that as one of the few city councilors to also have served on the school board she understands what the schools are facing, particularly in terms of “living with the unknowns.”

But she also was “extremely pleased” with the school board’s offer to give back some of the additional funding for tax relief.

Councilor Patti Smith went even further and called the school board’s action, “super responsible” and “the nicest goodwill gesture.”

And both Mayor Linda Cohen and Councilor Tom Blake talked about how pleasant it was to have a City Council and a school board that get along so well.

“This is a very pleasurable meeting, which is unusual,” Blake said. While Cohen said, “it’s nice to see these two boards working so well together.”

She also praised the school board for understanding that funding for the schools “all comes from the same pot – the taxpayer.”


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