Portland Public Schools is projecting close to $1.1 million in pandemic-related losses this year, though that number could be partially offset by an estimated $485,000 in new savings generated by extended school closures.

Those numbers, recently presented to the school board’s finance committee, present a picture of how the coronavirus outbreak has affected the district’s finances as the board continues to discuss the upcoming 2020-21 school budget.

A budget of $122.3 million was presented to the school board in early March and was originally scheduled to go to a referendum June 9, though that timeline has been pushed back, Superintendent Xavier Botana said Monday.

“We are working closely with the board leadership and the (city) council to understand what the impact of the pandemic is on the ability to raise the revenue that is needed to be able to support the things we know we need to do as a school district,” Botana said. “We are very cognizant of the fact the economy is in a very different place than where it was in early March and at the same time we know the fundamental work of the school district is not less necessary, but more necessary.”

Botana’s original budget included a cost-saving plan to reconfigure the district’s eight mainland elementary schools, though the reconfiguration and about $1 million in new investments were withdrawn March 12 due to uncertainty posed by the outbreak, changing the proposed budget to $122.5 million.

Botana said Monday that number has not changed since then, though the finance committee has since looked at scenarios for both a budget with no tax increase and what it would look like to continue operating under the current budget if they are unable to pass a budget by July 1.

Under state law, if districts do not pass new budgets by July 1 they may continue to operate under the previous year’s budget.

“We don’t have a goal per se,” Botana said. “We’re just having conversations with board leadership and with the council around what is the increase that the board and the council would be comfortable advancing.”

The district is expecting to receive between $1.5 million and $1.9 million in new federal funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, and has received lower than anticipated health insurance premium projections, both of which could help keep it from rising as much, Botana said.

The finance committee is scheduled to take up the budget May 7. Following a multi-step approval process, a public referendum is now scheduled for July 14.

Portland schools is currently estimating close to $1.1 million in coronavirus-related costs and revenue losses this school year, including $110,000 in new technology costs; $25,000 in printing services and student supplies; $30,000 for food distribution over April break; $530,000 in food service revenue losses and $325,000 in lost Medicaid reimbursements.

At the same time there have also been pandemic-related savings, including $65,000 in savings from field trips and athletics transportation; $215,000 in other athletics-related costs; and $55,000 for student transportation.

The costs of substitute teachers and utilities, two areas that were expected to be over budget, are also expected to be lower.

Botana said the projections are “not hard numbers” and the board is working to figure out how to address the losses, including whether the district will need to draw on reserves.

Steve Bailey, executive director of the Maine School Management Association, said the challenges facing Portland are not unlike what districts around the state are facing.

In general, the cost of feeding students during school closures has strained school budgets, as districts have had to cope with a loss of food service revenues and in many cases an increase in students in need of free meals.

Districts are also seeing some savings in utilities and the costs associated with keeping buildings open and running, but many are worried about the impact even a small school budget increase could have on taxpayers.

“What everybody is concerned about is how we are going to re-enter and be able to open in the schools,” Bailey said. “Will there be a loss of revenue in the towns with people not working and the potential for taxes to not to be collected? Those kinds of things (are concerns). Will school budgets be able to be supported by the communities? That’s a growing concern.”

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