The Board of Education was set to have its first review of the Portland school budget this week, but Superintendent Xavier Botana has suspended the budget process. Courtesy / Portland Public Schools

PORTLAND — April is the month when city councilors and school members typically are busy reviewing municipal and school spending plans for the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

That won’t be the case this year, however.

City Manager Jon Jennings said last week that the coronavirus has had a major impact on the municipal budget process and has changed the city’s focus.

The municipal budget is typically unveiled in early April before being reviewed by the City Council’s Finance Committee and then brought back to to full council in May.

“We put a good budget together for residents, but we’ve seen in the last 12 days a complete collapse in our revenue,” Jennings said March 24.

That means the budget process will have to start over again.

“We are prepared to do that, but right now is not the time. The governor and the Legislature have given us leeway. We are in emergency mode right now and will get to (the budget) eventually,” he said.

Finance Director Brendan O’Connell said waiting will mean revenue streams and expenditures will have to be projected again.

“We will take the next few weeks to see how things go and have staff go back to the drawing board and present their budgets again,” he said.

The proposed $122.5 million school budget was set to be reviewed by the Portland Board of Education Tuesday with approval expected April 7. The school budget had been slated for presentation to the City Council on April 27, but the process is on hold.

Doing so will allow school leaders time to figure out if it can get a reprieve from charter requirements. The city charter states the budget must be presented to the City Council by the third Monday of April and approved by voters by June 30, two things that may be hard with council meetings on hold for the time being.

There may be some relief in the charter requirements given the circumstances, but Bruce Smith, legal counsel for the school department said “as a matter of law, those charter provisions are still in effect and the obligation to attempt to have a school budget by June 30 is still in effect.”

The delay will also allow school leaders to figure out what sort of impact the federal stimulus package related to the coronavirus would have on the budget.

“We met with the (school board’s) finance committee on Thursday and put our budget process on pause while we have some things come into clearer focus,” Superintendent Xavier Botana said in an email to The Forecaster.

Although there was some discussion about creating a zero tax increase school budget, as it stands now, the budget calls for a $5.1 million increase over the current budget. It would require $97.1 million from taxpayers, resulting in a 3% tax rate increase. That would mean an additional $88.50 on the property tax bill for the owner of a $250,000 home, the median home price in the city.

The school budget validation vote was scheduled for June 9, but it is unknown how or if voting will take place then in light of the coronavirous outbreak.

If a budget is not approved by the start of the next fiscal year on July 1, spending would be dictated by the current budget.

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