A little more state funding and a longer, more collaborative budget process have eased the school budget process so far in Portland, where the superintendent’s proposed $117.8 million school budget was presented without major controversy to the city’s finance committee Wednesday night.

“It’s a welcome change,” Superintendent Xavier Botana said after the joint meeting of the city and school board finance committees. In past years, when he presented budgets with much higher tax increases, the city’s finance committee demanded major cuts. Last year, Botana’s original budget would have required a 9.7 percent increase in the school portion of the tax levy.

By comparison, Botana’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.

The current 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 proposed budget includes about $1.8 million in new programs known as the “Portland Promise.” They include 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.

School board member Anna Trevorrow said the board worked hard to keep city officials informed about the budget, and the new programming.

“It has a lot to do with the process this year,” she said.

Finance committee members still had questions about the budget and asked for more information on several points, but there were no immediate demands to cut the budget or meet a certain tax increase cap. Several noted that the budget was much different than expected because school officials had been warning about a possible cut of millions of dollars in state funds.

“This is a much better picture,” said City Councilor Justin Costa, a member of the finance committee.

District officials had anticipated losing millions in state funding, but now expect 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.

The district recently ended a months-long analysis of the district’s enrollment and facilities aimed at identifying cost-cutting measures. A committee worked with a consultant to develop a five-year district projection, including data on demographics, facilities, enrollment, 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.

The Portland school board will hold a public hearing on the budget proposal on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the City Hall council chambers.

 

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