The Portland City Council voted to advance a $133.1 million school budget to voters Monday night after rejecting a proposal from the finance committee that sought to decrease the school budget’s impact on the city tax rate.

The board voted 6-2 to pass the budget, which now will go to referendum on June 14. Councilors Mark Dion and Tae Chong opposed the school budget, which came to a vote after an amendment brought by Councilor Roberto Rodriguez restored the school board’s proposed budget. Councilor April Fournier was absent. Mayor Kate Snyder joined Dion and Chong in opposing Rodriguez’s amendment but ultimately voted in support of the budget.

City Councilor Roberto Rodriguez’s amendment to restore the school board’s proposed budget was approved 5-3 Monday, after which the budget was approved 6-2. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I think it’s important that when we hear teachers, when we hear staff, when we hear the superintendent, when we talk to students ourselves, that when we hear of their experiences and the challenges they have, that gives us a lot more insight than just numbers,” said Rodriguez, a former school board member. “I would caution us against that line of conversation and to hear the experts as they’re explaining to us the needs the schools have.”

The $133.1 million budget approved by the school board and council includes a 4.1 percent increase in the school side of the tax rate that, when taken in conjunction with a proposed city tax rate increase of 5.5 percent, would result in a 4.8 percent, or 62-cent increase in the tax rate. That would mean an increase of $226 in property taxes on a $365,000 home.

However, the city is still working to resolve a $2 million budget gap in Interim City Manager Danielle West’s proposed $269 million general fund budget. If that $2 million is to come from property taxes, it would result in a 5.9 percent, rather than a 4.8 percent, overall tax rate increase.

The council’s action came after the finance committee voted 3-0 last month to recommend a $1 million reduction in the school budget.


Snyder, who earlier in Monday’s meeting proposed adding $250,000 back into the school budget from the finance committee’s recommendation, said she ultimately voted for the school budget since it was the will of the majority of the council.

Snyder said it had been her intent to encourage the school district to look at replacing taxpayer dollars with federal pandemic relief funds and that without a reduction in money to be raised by local property tax dollars on the school side there will be “very hard choices” in the city budget.

She said she will be looking at other ways – such as cuts to the budget, federal funds or fee increases – in order to not resolve the $2 million gap through property taxes. “That’s what I would be pursuing,” Snyder said. “Close to 6 percent feels like a lot to pass along in these times.”

Dion, who chairs the finance committee, said he and the rest of the finance committee thought the school budget was reasonable and supported the goals of the school budget.

“My only point of contention on the budget is the revenue issue,” Dion said. “It’s not the expenditures. I want to be clear about that. I believed in our original report to the council in so far as I thought the board of education could and should explore the possibility of underwriting some of the costs associated with that budget through the use of federal dollars.”

The theme of the school budget is “keeping the focus on teaching and learning.” According to a district news release issued last month, the budget includes few new investments and seeks to maintain current programs and services while also covering increased costs for salaries, benefits and debt service. It also seeks to balance fiscal constraints, including a $2.6 million reduction in state aid, driven largely by Portland’s high property valuation, and inflation.


Several people weighed in on the budget during a public hearing.

“I think any opportunity we have to put money into education, the better,” resident Dave Aceto said. “I think it’s where community starts and where community is built.”

Resident Jim Hall, meanwhile, encouraged the council to consider an amendment from Chong, who sought no increase in school spending. “While it’s important to invest in education, it’s also important to balance the application of available revenue,” Hall said.

“I’m offended the school board voted to not even consider your recommendation,” Hall said, referring to the school board’s decision to wait for a final decision from the council on the school budget rather than act on the finance committee’s recommendation.

School Board Chair Emily Figdor said the district already made a lot of compromises in its budget, that the proposed budget is less than the rate of inflation and that over-reliance on one-time federal funds is not sustainable.

“You have options other than taking money from schools,” Figdor told the council. “I urge you not to cut the school budget. Don’t cut it by $1 million. Don’t cut it by $750,000. Don’t cut it at all. We sent you a very responsible budget and our schools and our children need the resources.”

The school budget referendum is scheduled for June 14. The council finance committee meets Thursday and is continuing work on the city budget, which is expected to go to the council for a vote on June 6.

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