In just one month, I’ll present my new school budget proposal to the Portland Board of Public Education. While we don’t have all of our numbers yet, steep increases in the cost of living and reduced state funding will make for a challenging road ahead as we plan the fiscal year 2023 budget.

Xavier Botana is the superintendent of Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at [email protected]

Each year, our Portland Public Schools budget has a theme. Last year, the FY22 budget’s core theme was advancing equity. The theme for our budget for the 2022-2023 school year is: keeping the focus on teaching and learning. This theme communicates our clear direction and that this budget will endeavor to maintain our momentum toward our Portland Promise goals of achievement, whole student and people – which all center around our key fourth goal of equity.

We are Maine’s largest school district and also the most diverse. Because we value that diversity, we have made it our mission to repay the educational debts and close the opportunity gaps between our economically disadvantaged students (who are mostly students of color, English language learners and students with disabilities) and our more advantaged students in Portland (who tend to be white).

Our FY22 budget contained a historic $3 million in equity investments. Those included hiring more ELL teachers, adding multilingual social workers and investing in multilingual family engagement specialists, increasing staff diversity and inclusion efforts, and expanding of our pre-kindergarten program. Over the past five years, we have invested over $13 million in these efforts. While significant, that’s a relatively small portion of our overall budget.

Our community faces fiscal challenges as we work to stay the course.

We recently received our projected state and local contribution from the state Essential Programs and Services formula, which the state uses to allocate education funds to Maine communities. Due to a variety of factors in that formula, Portland’s share of state education funding this budget cycle will be about $1.5 million less than we received for FY22.

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One key reason for the reduction is that EPS allots less state funding to communities that have high property valuation, expecting those communities to be able to contribute more locally to their students’ education. Portland’s valuation is extremely high, so our share from the state is less. EPS also allocates more money to districts that gain students. Instead, our enrollment is down.

In addition to receiving less state aid, rising costs for all manner of goods and services and contracted increases for our Portland Public Schools employees will contribute to making this another challenging budget year. Finally, our debt service is increasing as we bond the renovations to our four elementary schools that were approved by voters in 2017.

I am grateful we have a school board, a city council and a community that believe in the value of public education and in making that education accessible for all. I am also grateful that we have significant federal coronavirus-related funding to help to bolster our efforts.

The public plays a key role in our budget process, which includes multiple opportunities for public input and concludes with a voter referendum on June 14. We’ll start with a Zoom public budget forum on March 7 to discuss our goals for the FY23 budget in more detail and answer questions. I invite the Portland community to attend. Also, I hope you stay engaged and involved so we can work together to achieve an FY23 school budget that not only maintains current programs and services, but also the equity investments at the center of our work.

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