Portland is looking at a proposed $125.8 million school budget for the coming year that includes a 6 percent tax increase and a number of new investments reflecting this year’s budget theme of “advancing equity.”

The proposed budget, unveiled by Superintendent Xavier Botana at the school board meeting Tuesday night, represents a 5 percent increase from the current $119.9 million budget. The 6.29 percent tax increase would add 74 cents to the school portion of the tax rate for a total school tax rate of $12.43. That would mean a property tax increase of about $184 on a $250,000 home.

Last year’s budget, which was up 2 percent over the previous year, originally included a 3 percent tax increase that was ultimately brought down to zero as the budget process played out in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This past year it became evident that government institutions – including our school system – have failed to realize their potential for creating a more inclusive, just and equitable world,” Botana said Tuesday. “This proposed budget takes steps to redress this long-standing pattern by targeting resources to the students to whom we owe the largest educational debt: those who are learning English, have disabilities or are alienated in our schools.”

The Board of Public Education voted unanimously to refer the proposed budget to the finance committee, which meets Thursday, and which will hold a public forum on the proposal March 22. A vote by the full board is expected April 13 followed by a City Council vote May 17 and public referendum June 8.

About $3 million of the $5.9 million budget increase will go toward the increased cost of maintaining current services by covering things like salaries, benefits and debt service, while equity investments make up $2.9 million of the overall increase. The budget also assumes a full return to in-person learning in the fall.

Included in the equity investments are approximately $1 million for the district’s Lau plan, which provides programming and services for English language learners; $222,000 for expansion of the district’s pre-K program; $100,000 for curriculum and professional development including in the areas of Wabanaki and Africana studies; $310,000 for enhanced special education services; and $121,000 to implement the district’s new harassment and discrimination policy including through the hiring of a district ombudsman.

Other equity investments include $120,000 for the cost of a district director of diversity, equity and inclusion and approximately $400,000 in new investments around diversifying the workforce, including by establishing a human resources position dedicated to recruitment and support for educators of color.

In addition, the budget also calls for approximately $275,000 to increase nursing and social work staff to respond to the physical and mental toll of the pandemic on students and $93,000 to establish the position of an outdoor learning coordinator and expand on this year’s outdoor learning initiative.

The district also is planning for a decrease of close to $1 million, or about 5 percent, in state funding this year, largely due to the increase in the city’s valuation. Federal coronavirus relief funds will help pay for some expenses next year, but are also being directed at spring and summer programming.

In other news Tuesday, the board unanimously approved a request for bids on renovations at Reiche Community School and officials provided updates on plans for increasing in-person learning. The district is aiming to communicate with families next week about specific plans with a goal of having any changes in place for high school students before the April 19-23 vacation and after it for elementary and middle school students.

The district has shifted away from a previous plan that called for 4-4.5 hours of in-person time per week for high school students in grades 10 through 12 in the afternoon and is instead considering a hybrid approach for high schools that would include two days per week of in-person learning.

Several high school parents who spoke during the public comment period reiterated frustration with the current model, which has 10th- through 12th-grade students taking classes remotely. “Parents all over the state are fighting to get their students back five days per week while ours are still fully remote,” said Judy Sedgewick, whose daughter is a senior at Portland High. “I feel like these students have been left out and left behind and it’s unfair, inequitable treatment of a small group of students. I feel it needs to end as quickly as possible. These students are spending too much time home alone.”


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