PORTLAND — The School Board is sending a nearly $117.4 million budget to voters for approval in a June 11 referendum.

If the school spending package for fiscal year 2o2o is approved, residents will see an 83-cent increase in their tax rate, from $22.48 per $1,000 of valuation to $23.31 when combined with the new municipal budget.

The School Board voted unanimously May 21 to reduce the overall school budget by $450,000, as directed by the City Council.

Even with the reduction, Anna Trevorrow, who heads the board’s Finance Committee, called the proposed school spending “a really strong budget” that maintains staffing levels and makes investments in crucial areas.

Board Chairman Roberto Rodriguez agreed and said, “I’m incredibly proud of this budget.” In particular, he was pleased with the School Department’s ability to continue making strides toward implementing its goal of providing universal pre-kindergarten.

However, Rodriguez also called not being able to carry out a plan to revamp the Breathe program at all grade levels “a huge loss” and said he’s hopeful it can be accomplished in the 2021 budget.

The Breathe program serves students with special behavioral and emotional needs. Under the proposed budget, the School Department would implement the new model at the elementary and middle school levels only.

Alicia Gardiner, the district’s finance director said not offering the new Breathe program at the high school level would save approximately $158,000 from the budget.

Other reductions in spending approved last week include $48,000 to purchase new emergency radios, which would allow all the schools to operate on the same channel. Gardiner said the School Department is working with the city on alternative funding to buy the radios.

In addition, the board took $23,000 out of the furniture replacement line and agreed to fund a plan to provide teachers in grades kindergarten through fifth grade with updated laptops in phases.

Gardiner said that would remove $46,000 in spending. She also suggested that the board could safely take $64,000 out of its own contingency fund, leaving $111,000 that the School Board could spend at its discretion.

She said since 2015 the School Board has only used an average of $30,000 a year from the contingency and so “I’m comfortable that $111,000 is an OK amount to move forward with.”

The last item cut from the budget was $50,000 in contracted services at central office. Gardiner said no decisions have been made as to what those particular services would be.

This week Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana encouraged residents to support the school budget at the polls.

“I am very grateful to the City Council and School Board for their support … ” he said. “We worked very closely to make sure that the elected officials understood the value of retaining our core programming and implementing key improvements, such as expanded pre-kindergarten.”

“These investments in the future of our city are proof that this is a community that believes in the importance and value of public education and is willing to support those values with action. We hope that Portlanders will come out to vote on June 11th.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

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