After dozens of people spoke about a desperate need to improve four elementary schools, Portland’s school board voted 6-2 Tuesday night to ask the City Council to propose a $70 million bond to voters in November to pay for renovations.

“We need to make our full-throated commitment to education in Portland,” said board member John Eder. “It’s a great day.”

The City Council has final say over whether to send any bond to voters, and at what amount.

The school board’s vote followed a public hearing at which almost all speakers supported the $70 million proposal and opposed a last-minute proposal by board member Sarah Thompson for a $40 million bond, funding fewer improvements at the Presumpscot and Lyseth elementary schools.

Thompson said she made the alternative proposal because she is worried that a $70 million bond will be rejected or the improvements will be delayed.

“I’ve very concerned about getting nothing done,” said Thompson. “I want action.”


In the end, Thompson voted for the $70 million proposal, as did Chairwoman Marnie Morrione, who said earlier that she supported the more “prudent” $40 million proposal.

Board members Stephanie Hatzenbuehler and Laurie Davis voted against the proposal.

“I am thrilled,” said Emily Herlihy, the Presumpscot school’s literary coach, after the vote. “I do think we have a fight before us to get it passed (by voters), but Portlanders have always supported their schools.”

If voters approve a $70 million bond, the city will be authorized to issue a series of bonds up to that amount to pay for projects at the Lyseth, Presumpscot, Reiche and Longfellow elementary schools. Those bonds, paid off over 30 years, would likely be staggered, and taxpayers would see annual increases in the school portion of their tax bill to pay off the debt.

The $70 million bond, on its own, would create annual tax rate increases of 1 to 1.5 percent for the first five years, totaling $34 to $43 a year for a property with an assessed value of $225,000, according to an estimate by the district’s chief financial officer.

If that bond is added to the anticipated “base budget,” the total annual tax rate increases would rise to between 5 percent and 6 percent for the first five years, totaling $115 to $148 a year for a property with an assessed value of $225,000. In subsequent years, the annual increases would get smaller.


The cumulative effect of the bond and the base budget on a $225,000 property over the initial five-year period would cost the owners an extra $670.50 by the fifth year, according to the estimate.

The four schools have not had significant investments since they were built 40 to 60 years ago.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, parents were vehement about the need to improve the schools.

“How long will the students of Presumpscot have to suffer from a lack of political will?” asked Brad Post, the father of a Presumpscot Elementary School student. “Our kids are worth it.”

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said the school board has been studying the need for improvements for decades.

“Our schools are unequal. That is immoral on our part,” Strimling said.

Portland used state funding to build the East End Community School in 2006 and the Ocean Avenue Elementary School in 2011.

In April, Portland voters approved a plan to pay for a new Hall Elementary School. The state will pay for almost all of the $29.7 million project, with Portland taxpayers paying $1.4 million for specific upgrades such as a larger gym that can serve as a community center.


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