Bucking a recommendation from its finance committee to pare back the proposed school budget, the City Council Monday decided to send the $125.2 million plan to voters next month without any reductions.

The increase in spending to address equity in the schools is vital and outweighs concerns about a tax increase, some councilors said.

Councilor Tae Chong, who said he has been advocating for the schools to focus on racial inequities for nearly a decade, said “seeing this is a dream come true.”

The budget is up $5.3 million, or 4.4%, over the current year’s budget, and would increase the school tax rate by 62 cents. Coupled with the proposed municipal budget, which is expected to reduce the the city tax rate by 4% due to the use of federal funding to cover operations, the overall tax rate in the city is expected to rise 16 cents to $23.39 per thousand valuation. The owner for a $250,000 home would pay an additional $45 in property taxes if voters approve the school budget June 8.

The budget for the 2021-22 school year includes $2.9 million in new spending to improve equity and address other district priorities and $2.4 million to maintain current programs and services, including increases in salaries, benefits and debt service.

The finance committee, composed of Councilors Mark Dion, April Fournier and Nick Mavodones, recommended April 29 that the school department’s tax request be reduced by close to $1.5 million. To make up for the difference, the committee said, the school district could use some of the $18 million in American Recovery Plan funding it expects to receive. The district, however, plans on using that funding to support the full reopening of schools this fall and for other “community-based sustainable investments aligned to Portland Promise goals.”

The finance committee’s recommendation split the council, with Councilors Pious Ali, Andrew Zarro, Chong, Fournier and Dion voting against it.

Even though he supported the reduction at the finance committee level, after thinking about it more, Dion said, he changed his mind, fearing reducing the school board’s request is the wrong decision.

“I still have difficulty with this decision, but I also know there are other families that have difficulties every day in trying to get the best for their kids,” he said. “So I will vote against my own amendment, because I was participatory to that, and I will send it to the public and let them decide.”

Mavodones said although many of the people who spoke at pubic hearings about the school budget have advocated for it to remain intact, he knows there are “a lot of people living in the city who are struggling to pay their taxes.”

“I have no concerns with the expenditures proposed by the school board,” Mavodones said. “I do have concern about how they are going to be funded. I’ve said in the past, now is not the time for a tax increase.”

“All the programs that are being proposed can be funded by federal dollars,” Mavodones said. “To say, that can’t be done, I don’t subscribe to that.”

Councilor Belinda Ray said the committee was not asking the board to do away with the increased investment in equity, but rather to fund it in a different way.

“I know how important the equity piece is, I do,” Ray said. “I believe in it and I do want to see us close this achievement gap that we know exists, but I do recognize we need to try to establish equity for folks on a fixed income folks trying to age in place in this city. Every time we raise their taxes faster than their social security goes up, they are in a bind,” Ray said.

The school board’s recommended budget got the support of Fournier because equity “is just a word unless there is action associated with it.”

Chong said he supported the school board’s proposal because it works to address inequities in the Portland school system and he is hopeful the rest of the American Rescue Plan funding could also be used to support investments in fixing inequities to education in the district.

“I’ve been advocating for this for almost 10 years and knowing we could be spending almost $20 million to address the most important school issue, perhaps social justice issue, of our time, it would mean we could potentially stymie generational poverty and the school to prison pipeline,” Chong said. “Seeing this dream come true, I am overwhelmed and hopeful. I will support the budget without cuts, because with the $18 million in (American Rescue Plan) moneys it is a comprehensive budget that will address racial inequities in our community. It’s still not enough, but it is the largest investment in racial equity in our city and state’s history. We have the potential to bridge the academic and racial divide.”

Absentee ballots for the June 8 election are now available through the city clerk’s office and in person voting began Tuesday at Merrill Auditorium.

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