Despite pressure to lower the tax impact, the Portland school board stayed with its latest budget plan, voting 7-1 Thursday in favor of sending the $112 million budget to the City Council.

“I would urge you to think of this budget as where we were able to protect the priorities of the superintendent’s work in the comprehensive plan, to protect the things we value as a school and community,” said board finance committee Chairwoman Jenna Vendil. “I truly believe this is a compromise budget.”

The final budget amount was $111,797,612, a slight reduction reflecting new savings found in lower energy costs and lower health care costs.

That 6.4 percent increase on the school portion of the tax rate – which is about half the municipal budget – would add $163.20 to the tax bill of the average home in Portland, which is valued at about $240,000.

When the proposed $247 million city budget is combined with the most recent school budget, which is still being developed, residents could see a roughly 4.5 percent increase in their property taxes, from $21.65 per $1,000 of assessed value to $22.62. That would add about $250 to the annual tax bill of a home assessed at $250,000.

Board members indicated they anticipated push back from council representatives.

“I do recognize the challenge going forward with our colleagues on the council,” said Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow. She recalled that in the past, when the school district got more state subsidy than anticipated, and the city had an unexpected shift in state costs, the district zeroed out its tax increase, allowing the city to have a higher-than-usual increase.

“I’m hopeful the City Council will see that this year is a challenge for us, and we need to have some leniency on our side of the budget,” Trevorrow said.

A handful of parents and teachers encouraged the board to support the full budget during a public comment period.

“We are proud of you,” said David Hopkinson, the father of a second-grader at Presumpscot Elementary School. “Please do not let that courage wane over the next few weeks.”

Although the council’s finance committee has already met twice to discuss the school budget, the school board will formally present the budget to the full City Council on Wednesday.

Superintendent Xavier Botana’s original $113.4 million proposal, which would have increased the school portion of the tax rate by 9 percent, was cut by about $1.4 million, mostly through undisclosed personnel cuts in administrative positions.

Some council Finance Committee members, including Chairman Nick Mavadones, have said the latest budget is still too high, although member Mayor Ethan Strimling supports the superintendent’s budget.

Traditionally, school board officials present a budget that is within the parameters suggested by city finance committee members, but this year the two sides are millions of dollars apart. The city can vote to approve a lower school budget figure, and the school officials will have to take up the budget again to meet that budget amount.

The budget must be approved by voters, and the referendum will be on the June ballot.

The school budget has a bigger tax impact than expected because the district got less state subsidy than anticipated. 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 – left the district with $3.4 million less in state subsidy than expected, while fixed costs such as salaries and benefits are increasing.

For example, under the initial budget, salaries increased $2.4 million – but $1.9 million of that was because of contractual obligations for current positions. Benefits increased $2.2 million, or 12.4 percent, and 91 percent of that was from projected increases in health insurance.

“This process has been extremely difficult because the state has yanked the rug out from under us,” said board member Tim Atkinson.

“Property taxes are not the right way to pay for education,” he said. “And the people of Maine, the people of Portland, are aware of that. That’s why they supported the referendum (in 2016) using the income tax on top earners to fund the (school) budgets.”

In November 2016, Maine voters approved a new 3 percent surcharge on annual household income above $200,000 to fund statewide education, but it was repealed by the Legislature in last year’s state budget deal.

“It’s a very difficult situation we are in,” he said. By raising taxes, he said “taxpayers, particularly those at the lower end of the income spectrum, will suffer. “If we drastically reduce our programming …then it’s the students who need the most support who are going to suffer on that end.”

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

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