Portland’s superintendent has cut another $800,000 from his proposed school budget by trimming sports and supply budgets, eliminating plans for new programs to help raise math scores and assimilate new Mainers, and finding a handful of teaching and ed tech positions to cut.

The cuts leave a $104.8 million budget for the year starting July 1, with a 2.5 percent tax increase, the rate requested by the City Council’s finance committee.

“We’ve come up with some reasonably targeted and non-impactful reductions that we hope allow us to continue to provide quality services to our kids in spite of these reductions,” Superintendent Xavier Botana told the school board’s finance committee Thursday, when he outlined the cuts.

This is the second round of cuts for Botana since he presented his initial $107 million budget, which would have increased the education portion of property taxes by 6.5 percent. A revised budget last week shaved off about $1 million and lowered the tax increase to 4.74 percent.

Botana’s final budget calls for 1.2 percent more spending than the current $103.6 million budget.

The school board’s finance committee endorsed the budget 2-1 Thursday, with member Laurie Davis dissenting. She said she would have found cuts in other areas, such as increasing class sizes.

Several factors squeezed the budget. Expenditures are up 4.5 percent from the current budget, 80 percent of that due to a $3.8 million increase in salary and benefits required by contract. At the same time, Portland’s state allocation is down $2 million from this year, to $13.5 million, under Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget, which is still being debated by the legislature.

Botana’s final budget presumes that the district will get an additional $1 million in state funds. It now goes to the full school board for a public hearing and first read on Tuesday. It will also be discussed next week at a joint meeting of the City Council and school board finance committees.

Botana and the committee members said they regretted removing funding for new programs that were part of the school board’s long-term plan to improve the district.

“I obviously am extremely sad about the comprehensive plan implementation (cuts),” Botana said, referring to $410,000 saved by eliminating the initiatives. “That is, without a doubt, the work the board is committed to and I’m interested in doing.”

Those funds would have paid for:

– Two new positions, one for a math director and another for a social-emotional learning director.

– A “New Arrivals Center” program to help middle school and high school students who are new to Maine adjust to school.

-A literacy program tailored to help elementary school students who speak a language other than English at home.

– A college prep program for new Mainers called, Make it Happen.

– Additional counseling resources.

– A part-time instructor to expand Spanish language instruction in elementary schools to 90 minutes a week.

The budget presented Thursday also saves $382,000 in personnel costs: $102,000 by changing technology personnel at the middle schools; $150,000 by reducing 2½ elementary teachers; $65,000 by reducing a half-time teaching position and one ed tech position from Portland High School; and $65,000 by cutting the equivalent of two ed techs across the elementary and middle schools.

It also reduces the athletics budget by $42,000 by eliminating some assistant coaches and reducing co-curricular sports and supply budgets. Another $95,000 was trimmed when all of the school principals agreed to a 10 percent reduction each for supplies such as paper, toner and books, and field trips.

“This is not the budget that I would like to be supporting tonight, but I’m doing so in the spirit of the work that you’ve done,” board member Jenna Vendil said. She said she hopes there will be additional state funding so some of the eliminated programs can be restored.

“The budget before us is very much a status quo budget,” Vendil said. “The comprehensive plan investment that has been eliminated. This is the work that we set out to do … There isn’t a huge cost for the strategies.”

Chairwoman Stephanie Hatzenbuehler said she agreed with Vendil.

“I am not at all happy to put this budget forward, but I’ll do it with confidence because it’s the combined work of our situation at hand,” Hatzenbuehler said. “I do believe in the coming years, Superintendent Botana will be able to build on this.”

The president of the Portland teachers union said she hopes that any additional funds will restore classroom teaching positions.

“These are difficult budget times so cuts need to be made,” said Sue Olafson. “The cuts being proposed … most likely will be absorbed by retirements and resignations.”

Resident Steven Scharf said he was glad to see the reductions, but thought there was the opportunity to make more cuts. He questioned plans to have 2½ employees staffing the Cliff Island Elementary School, which has three students; the high costs for students with special needs at Bayside Learning; and whether athletics could be cut further.

He also said he doesn’t think the district should count on additional state funds.

“I don’t like your gambling on what the state will do,” he said. “I don’t think the entire LePage budget is going to come through, but we don’t know what parts of it will pass muster and what parts won’t. I think it’s dangerous to gamble.”

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine

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