The Portland Board of Education voted 7-1 Tuesday to approve a $125.2 million budget for next year that includes new investments to further equity for students who are English language learners, have disabilities or are economically disadvantaged.

Superintendent Xavier Botana said his budget plan would increase spending by 4.4 percent, or $5.3 million, over this year’s $119.9 million budget. More than half of the increase would go to maintaining programs and services, and covering increased costs for salaries, benefits and debt service. The equity investments would cost about $2.9 million, according to Botana.

But the budget approved Tuesday evening is $751,000 less than the $125.8 million budget proposed by Botana in March. The district since learned that its share of health insurance costs for employees will be $661,000 less than anticipated.

Botana said the budget, which assumes a return to full in-person learning this fall, would raise the school portion of the tax rate by 64 cents. The owners of a home valued at $250,000 would see a tax increase of about $160 per year. Last year’s school budget, approved amid the early days of the pandemic and accompanying economic uncertainties, contained no tax increase.

In addition to the equity investments, the budget also calls for more nursing and social work staff to respond to the mental and physical needs arising from the pandemic, and for establishing an outdoor learning coordinator to continue and expand on this year’s outdoor learning initiative.

“I believe this budget is an expression of our values as a school district and a community,” board Chair Emily Figdor said, noting that the plan was reviewed by the Finance Committee, which made no changes. “It’s an investment, but an absolutely critical investment to address the inequities in our school district.”

“It has been unprecedented to have this level of clarity, unity and commitment from the board,” Figdor added.

Roberto Rodriguez, a board member and former chair, said this spending plan differs from the four previous ones he has worked on.

“It fundamentally changes what we are doing in the district,” he said.

He said the budget and its goals clearly strive to bring equity to the state’s largest school district.

The City Council will take a final vote on the budget on May 17. The plan will go to a public referendum on June 8.

Portland is Maine’s largest school district with 6,500 students. It is also the most diverse school community in the state. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken, and more than 60 languages are spoken by Portland students. About half of public school students qualify for free or reduced school meals.


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