Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana is proposing a $117.8 million school budget, a 6.5 percent increase over the current $110.6 million budget.

The budget presented to the school board Tuesday night includes about $1.8 million in new programs known as the “Portland Promise.” That includes expanding the pre-kindergarten program, adding a math coach and a science, technology, engineering and math coordinator and reorganizing services for students with special behavioral and emotional needs.

The superintendent’s proposed budget for the year starting July 1 would increase the school portion of the tax rate by 5.4 percent – about the same increase approved by voters last year. It would add 60 cents to the school portion of the tax rate for a total of $11.74, and it would be an increase of $144 per year for a home assessed at $240,000, which the city says is the average value in Portland.

“We recognize that the tax effort we are proposing is significant, but it also is a necessary investment to provide the quality education that our community deserves and has come to expect,” Botana said in a statement. “We must also continue to work as a community with our Portland delegation and other political leaders to find new ways to fund education that don’t place as much burden on local homeowners and renters.”

The budget will be reviewed by the school finance committee on Thursday, and a public hearing will be held March 26 at the school finance committee meeting.

Portland, which has been engaged in multiple cost-cutting studies because it anticipated a decrease in state funding, is now expected to get about $700,000 more in state funding, from $16.9 million in the 2018-19 school year to $17.6 million in the figures projected for 2019-20.

District officials noted that enrollment in the district is up slightly, at 6,768 students.

The pre-K expansion would add 13.5 positions and two classrooms, for $560,615. The reorganization of services for students with behavioral issues, now known as the Breathe program, would add 31 positions, mostly education technicians and largely covered by MaineCare, would cost the district $530,370. Curriculum changes as part of the core instruction focus will add 1.5 positions, at a cost of $276,250.

Botana said improving core instruction would include continuing a districtwide focus on math, adding an elementary phonics program and increasing professional development for elementary math and English.

Overall, the budget increases the number of district staff by 53 full-time equivalent positions, to 1,172. Salaries and benefits total about $93 million, and account for about 77 percent of the budget.

The current $110.6 million school budget increased the school portion of the tax rate by 5 percent. In 2017 the $104.8 million school budget raised the school portion of the tax rate 2.75 percent. In 2016, it was a 2 percent tax rate increase.

The budget process begins with the superintendent’s budget and ends with a public referendum scheduled for June 11.

The debate follows the months-long analysis of the district’s enrollment and facilities to identify cost-cutting measures. A committee worked with a consultant to develop a five-year district projection, including data on demographics, facilities, enrollment, costs, programming and transportation costs. That group recently completed its work. Although its analysis found a tentative option to save $2.8 million by significantly reorganizing Portland schools, the group decided to not put forward any specific cost-cutting recommendation to the school board.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine

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