The South Portland City Council on Tuesday declared racism as a public health crisis, approved the school department’s budget, made amendments to recently passed dog-leash rules and re-phrased the city’s definition of nude and topless bathing to be more inclusive.


The declaration, which states that legislative systems at the federal, state and local levels perpetuate racism, commits the City Council to taking further action to ensure racial equity in the city.

Among those actions are reviews of the city charter, ordinances and policies to address any systemic racism found in them; committing financial and human resources to such endeavors; and the inclusion of Indigenous voices on boards and committees, especially those to do with land use.

The city plans to hire a consultant to review its ordinances for symptoms of systemic racism and is looking for residents to participate in an advisory committee on the Community Health Needs Assessment. Part of that assessment’s purpose is to uncover racial disparities in the quality and availability of health care in the city.

The city of Portland made a similar declaration in 2020.



The council unanimously approved the school department’s proposed $59.7 million budget for the next school year. The budget is 8.4%, or $4.6 million, higher than the current year’s.

Roughly $47.8 million of the school budget will be raised by taxes, increasing the schools’ portion of the property tax rate by 44 cents, from $9.34 to $9.78 per $1,000 of assessed value. If approved by voters in June, the owner of a $500,000 home would pay $4,890 in school taxes, a $220 increase.

A key driver of the budget increase is a rapid enrollment in the district, including a 70% increase in multilingual learners since the 2019-20 school year.

Between October 2021 and April 2022, school enrollment increased by 212 students. In April, Superintendent Tim Matheney estimated that 1 in 5 South Portland students are multilingual learners.

The school department’s housing-vulnerable population is also an issue addressed by the budget.


“South Portland student enrollment accounts for 1.6% of the students in the state of Maine,” Matheney said at a budget presentation last month. “We are educating about 20% of the state’s housing-vulnerable students.”

The budget creates new English learning and special education teaching positions and a part-time liaison for housing-vulnerable students. It also accounts for inflation and a $1.3 million drop-off in state subsidies.

The school department’s budget now goes to voters for approval June 14.


The council was set to give final approval to amendments to the city’s dog-leash rules on Tuesday but made another change.

The original amendment, drafted May 3, prohibits dogs on Willard Beach between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. from May 1 to Sept. 30. Dogs would be allowed on the beach, off-leash, from 7-9 a.m. and 7-9 p.m.


The adjustment the council made at Tuesday’s meeting requires dogs to be on-leash from 7-8 p.m. The revision was made to give those who prefer only to be around leashed dogs more time at the beach in the evening, according to the council.

However, the enforceability of that change is in question.

“The way we’re currently staffed, I don’t know how much ranger support we’re going to have after 7 p.m.,” Parks and Recreation Director Karl Coughlin said.

The new dog rules, with the 7-8 p.m. leash requirement, will be up for a final council vote June 7.

The new rules also require dogs to be leashed at Hinckley Park from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. year-round and requires owners to properly dispose of dog waste. If a dog jumps on, barks at, or acts aggressively towards others and does not respond to its owner’s command to stop, that dog must be leashed.



In an effort to be more inclusive of trans and non-binary members of the community, the council unanimously passed changes in the wording of its ordinance banning nude and topless bathing in public. The final vote will be taken June 7.

The words “male or female” in the city’s definition of nudity would be changed to “person” and in the phrase “showing of a female breast,” female will be changed to “female identifying person.”

The changes are intended to “codify safer spaces for gender nonconforming, genderqueer, trans, and other gender variant people,” Councilor Jocelyn Leighton said in an email to The Forecaster.

“Gender variant folks, especially folks of color and particularly Black trans women, face incredible obstacles every day just for being who they are,” Leighton said. “We must work to make public, as well as private, spaces safer and accessible to all people. We have many gender variant folks in our community, including myself, and working on changing language is working for human rights.”


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