The South Portland City Council unanimously approved the school department’s $54 million fiscal year 2022 budget Tuesday night, sending the budget to voters next month.

Voters will act on the budget at the referendum vote scheduled for June 8. The council is expected to finalize the municipal budget at its meeting June 10.

The $54 million school budget is up 1.34% over this year’s budget, adding 18 cents to the property tax rate, Superintendent Ken Kunin said this week. For the owner of a $200,000 home, he said, the budget, if approved, would lead to a $36 increase to their tax bill.

Most of the budget increases this year are personnel-related and would have been less noticeable had the city not lost state educational funding. For the 2020-2021 year, Kunin said, the district received $6.7 million in funding, but the projected subsidy for the 2021-2022 year is $6.3 million, a total loss of $490,000.

If the city not lost that funding, Kunin said, “You’d be seeing a much smaller increase in taxes.”

During public comment at the May 18 council meeting, Pedro Vazquez, chairperson of the South Portland Human Rights Commission, asked if there was a way to know how much of the $54 million budget was earmarked for diversity, equity and inclusion-related initiatives. Kunin said it was difficult to say, as such measures were scattered throughout the budget, but he said the budget includes 12 teachers dedicated to teaching English to New Mainers. He also noted a multilingual coordinator position, new this year, dedicated to assisting students and families who do not speak English, as indicative of the district’s commitment to helping local families who have immigrated from other countries.

Kunin said that position is being paid for with federal funds, but it is likely the position will eventually become part of a future district budget.

City councilors thanked the school district for its work. Councilor April Caricchio particularly thanked Kunin, who is stepping down from his position at the end of June.

“I’ve always been impressed, and I’m grateful for your leadership,” she said.

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