Mayoral candidate Ethan Strimling and a supporter, Board of Education member Stephanie Hatzenbuehler, have publicly stated that by funding emergency assistance for asylum seekers, the City Council “took” money from our schools. That’s completely false.

Portland’s schools have every dollar the school board requested. The council, including Mayor Michael Brennan, approved the school board’s budget exactly as requested, sent it to referendum as required by law, and the voters approved it May 12. The voters, not the council or mayor, established the amount the school department will spend this year – period.

To clarify: At the time of the referendum, the state hadn’t passed its budget, so the schools conservatively estimated how much state education funding we’d receive and how much would be needed from local property taxes.

After the referendum, we learned state funding would be $1.7 million higher than estimated, meaning the school budget would need $1.7 million less in property taxes.

Knowing this, five councilors voted to spend $1.7 million in the city budget to fund emergency support for asylum seekers, preventing some 800 residents from becoming homeless and averting a humanitarian crisis.

The schools lost no funding when the council voted to support asylum seekers. They received every dollar of funding the voters approved and couldn’t have legally spent a penny more, despite the unexpected state funding.

Saying that money was taken from our schools isn’t true. Falsely implying that helping our most vulnerable immigrants hurt our schools is irresponsible and harms our community by furthering the false “us versus them” dichotomy that has been a dark undercurrent to the entire debate about asylum seekers.

We’ve privately explained this issue to Ethan Strimling and Stephanie Hatzenbuehler, asking them to correct the record, to no avail.

The facts are clear. Strimling and Hatzenbuehler should stop falsely accusing councilors of taking school funds.

Justin Costa

Portland city councilor;

former school board member and Finance Committee chair

Laurie Davis

current school board member and Finance Committee chair

Portland