SOUTH PORTLAND — The fiscal year 2021 budget Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin presented to the school board shows an increase of almost 4%, but given the economic changes brought about the by the COVID-19 coronavirus, he said it is “highly likely” adjustments will need to be made.

As it stands, the budget, discussed at a March 9 school board meeting, totals just less than $54.5 million, representing a 3.98% increase over the current year. Of that, Kunin estimated that around $47 million will need to be raised by taxes, an estimated increase of 4.66%. That translates to an additional 59 cents to the $19.10 tax rate, or $59 per $100,000 of real estate valuation. For a $250,000 home, that adds up to $147.50.

But the coronavirus continues to breed uncertainty. Right now, all budget workshop meetings have been canceled, and officials were not certain when the next public meeting would be. In addition, economic fallout from the virus means Kunin and the district will have to reevaluate the figures before calling the proposed budget truly ready.

“It is highly likely the budget that gets put forth to the board will be different than what I presented on March 9, because we have to adjust to a new reality,” he said. “We don’t know fully what that’s going to be at this point.”

For example, even before the coronavirus disruptions, the town was about to take a hit to state educational subsidies. Kunin said the current budget includes a projected decrease of $64,777, after several years of increases in subsidies.

School Board Chairman Matthew Perkins said he wasn’t surprised at the losses, given property values are one of the criteria the state uses to determine subsidies, and property values in the city have been going up.

“It wasn’t a shock, really, to any of us,” he said.

However, the state calculates those subsidies based on a number of local economic factors, including property values, which may in fact change due to new economic hardships. By the time the state has officially decided, Kunin said, subsidy distribution to South Portland may increase or decrease, and it’s impossible at this point to know just how much.

Perkins declined to discuss the budget in great detail, as, like Kunin, he believes “there’s a 99% chance” that the budget will have to be updated before the real work can begin.

“We’re just kind of in a holding pattern right now,” he said.

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