The Portland Board of Public Education approved a $119.9 million school budget Tuesday night, though exactly what cuts will be needed to avoid a tax increase has yet to be determined.

The board, in a 5-4 vote, directed the superintendent to work with the district’s unions to have $400,000 in cost-of-living increases eliminated from the budget, or find the savings in other line items. The cuts would be based on a list presented by board member Adam Burk or come from suggestions by the unions.

Board member Marnie Morrione, who made the motion, said at the start of Tuesday’s meeting that she felt unprepared to vote on the budget, not knowing the outcome of an earlier directive from the board’s finance committee asking the district to renegotiate the cost-of-living increases.

The district is setting up meetings with the four employee unions, though Superintendent Xavier Botana said Tuesday that it’s very unlikely the district will know by the end of the week whether the unions will agree to reduced cost-of-living increases.

The proposal from the committee called for a reduction of either 0.5 percent or 0.7 percent for union employees, who were scheduled to receive cost-of-living increases of up to 2.5 percent next year.

“If they aren’t willing or able to come to the table, that would be a cut in co-curriculars,” Morrione said. “I can’t vote on this because I don’t have that full information. I know we’re at a short amount of time to make a decision, but I personally don’t feel comfortable voting.”

The 5-4 vote on Morrione’s amendment was split, with board members Mark Belfantz, Micky Bondo, Adam Burk, Emily Figdor and Morrione voting in support of it and Roberto Rodriguez, Sarah Thompson, Tim Atkinson and Anna Trevorrow voting against it. The budget then passed unanimously after the amendment was approved.

The budget will now move to consideration by the City Council and eventually to a public referendum July 14. It comes more than two months after an original $122.3 million budget proposed in March was upended by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing several rounds of revisions to get down to a zero percent tax increase at the request of the council.

The budget already contains a 6 percent, or $140,000, cut to athletics and co-curricular activities, and after dozens of people voice opposition to further cuts at a public hearing last week, the board voted Tuesday to take athletics and co-curricular activities off the table as a potential area for further cuts.

“I’m very concerned that year after year we’ve reduced co-curriculars and we continue to go there,” said board member Sarah Thompson. “I feel pretty strongly that co-curriculars play an important part in the whole child and whole student. We’ve heard from many people how this keeps students in school.”

The board also discussed and approved a proposal Tuesday night to follow the superintendent’s recommendation that it look to increasing elementary class sizes if union negotiations are unsuccessful, though that was later superseded by the directive to look at line items.

That proposal asks the district to look to reduce cost-of-living increases across the board for both union and non-union staff or, if union negotiations aren’t successful, look to make reductions totaling $400,000 elsewhere.

The list of potential cuts presented by Burk calls for reducing the amount of contingency the district sets aside from its federal coronavirus relief; professional and technical services; employee training; repairs and maintenance; software licensing and staff travel.

Michelle Lawless, president of the Portland Education Association for Educational Technicians, the union representing education technicians, said she supported Burk’s ideas.

“I do not believe this budget gap should be made up on the backs of people working with the students,” Lawless said.

The $119.9 million budget represents a 2.1 percent increase over the current $117.3 million budget. Though it doesn’t include all the new investments originally proposed in March, it stills includes the addition of two pre-kindergarten classrooms, the cost of which will largely be offset by state funding; investments in math and literacy curriculum; and a new autism spectrum disorder program for high school students.

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