Portland Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana said Tuesday he knows he will have to fight for his proposed $113 million school budget, a 7.6 percent increase in spending over the current budget that would require a 9.7 percent increase in the school portion of the tax levy.

“It’s a big ask. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable,” Botana said after presenting his budget to the board. “I do think we are going to have a long and intense budget process.”

The increase in the school portion of the tax levy would add $238 to the tax bill of an average home in Portland valued at $240,000.

“I recognize the sacrifice this implies for many in our community and I don’t take that lightly,” Botana said.

The proposal got immediate pushback from the chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee.

“What is being proposed is something that is incredibly higher than what I could support,” said Councilor Nicholas Mavodones. “The taxpayers of Portland cannot afford this.”

But Mayor Ethan Strimling said it was “high time” to have a hard conversation about the budget.

“I’m pleased the superintendent is being aggressive in his vision for what our schools need to be for our kids,” Strimling said.

The school budget represents about half of the city budget.

The City Council, which sets the spending limits for municipal and school operations, has yet to hold its annual goal-setting session, scheduled for March 26, to provide guidance about the maximum property tax increase for the upcoming year.

The school budget proposal would:

n Increase salaries by $2.4 million, or 3.9 percent. Of that, $1.9 million is because of planned contractual obligations for current positions.

n Increase benefits $2.2 million, or 12.4 percent. Of that 91 percent is because of projected increases in health insurance.

n Maintain new positions and programs added last year called the “Portland Promise,” including a Make it Happen coordinator, a mentoring coordinator, adding a seal of biliteracy to diplomas and staffing a Newcomer Center for new students.

n Add 13 positions, including picking up some positions for teacher leaders, adult ed positions, social workers and content area leaders that were previously funded by grants.

“A great city requires great public schools,” Botana said. “Our schools are thriving and they are worth every dime we spend on them.”

Botana said changes to the state funding formula and increasing property values in Portland – which means the state expects the city to pay a larger share of school costs – have left the city with $3.4 million less than expected, while fixed costs such as salaries and benefits are increasing.

“Do we allow the degradation, the erosion, of the school system by failing to sustain the investment needed to maintain quality schools?” he asked.

Mavodones said the school board needs to find the balance between advocating for education and learning and its fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers.

“This budget doesn’t seem to try to do that,” Mavodones said.

Although the city hasn’t signaled what kind of tax increase may be considered, City Manager Jon Jennings and city Finance Director Brendan O’Connell previewed the budget challenges during a Jan. 19 council workshop.

O’Connell noted that policies and agreements already approved by the council could lead to as much as a 3.5 percent increase in the tax levy, a figure that does not account for any other potential revenue or expenditures.

That estimate was revised down to 2.9 percent after the announcement that the city would seek to use excess fund balances to pay for the upcoming property revaluation.

Among the items already endorsed by the City Council include $2.4 million in settled union contracts, keeping the Oxford Street Shelter open 24 hours day ($638,000 in additional annual expense), a new property tax rebate program for low-income seniors ($250,000), complying and enforcing a new ban on synthetic pesticides ($148,000), and an increased annual payment toward the city’s pension obligation bond ($873,000 increase for fiscal year 2019).

The school budget was unanimously referred to the school board finance committee, which scheduled its first review at 5:30 p.m. Friday at 353 Cumberland Ave.

The first public hearing on the budget is March 15 at the board’s finance committee meeting, also at 6 p.m. at 353 Cumberland Ave.

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

[email protected]

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