As a Portlander, I urge my fellow city residents to vote “yes” on Question 5 so our Board of Public Education can do the job we elected them to do.

The city charter says that “the Board of Public Education shall have all the powers, and perform all the duties in regard to the care and management, including sound fiscal management, conduct, and control of the public schools of the city.” However, the charter currently makes one exception to those duties. While it directs the school board to develop an annual school budget with the amount of money required for the support of the public schools, the charter gives the City Council the authority to set the total amount of the school budget before sending it to city voters.

Question 5 changes that process. It would allow the school board to set the school budget’s bottom line and send it directly to voters. Board members are the people we elected to oversee the Portland Public Schools, and they – not city councilors – are best positioned to understand the needs of both students and schools. Under Question 5, the council will still advise the school board on how much it thinks the budget should be, but the school board would make the final determination before asking voters for approval.

My seven years of experience as Portland Public Schools superintendent has convinced me this is the best way to achieve a school budget that responds to what our community needs.

During my tenure, I have worked with 22 school board members. Each has been passionate about improving our schools and dutiful about devoting time and energy to that passion. I have seen school board members invest countless hours into shaping a budget that reflects what our students need to succeed – only to sometimes have councilors reject that budget outright. Some councilors have made little or no attempt to understand the budget and are informed by their own misconceptions and priorities. They show no curiosity to understand the educational implications of what they reject in favor of automatic cuts to reduce the tax impact.

I have worked as an educator in four states. Portland is the only place I’ve worked where the decision of the duly elected school board is subject to second-guessing and deprioritization by officials who are not deeply invested in understanding the work of schools. This is not even the norm in Maine, where over 90 percent of school budgets are not subject to council review. It is time to make Portland part of that overwhelming majority of school districts that can focus on students’ needs in their budget process without council second-guessing.

Question 5 does not give the board a blank check. Voters continue to have the final say. I have watched Portland voters time and again approve the school budget by wide margins, telling us they want to prioritize investing in public education.

If voters don’t like the budget the school board sends them in June, they will reject it. That has occurred in other Maine communities, including Scarborough. No school board wants to see that happen. Rejection means a district will have to operate under its old budget until its school board can craft a new budget and seek voter approval again. That is a powerful check on any school board proposing a budget that’s out of step with voters.

Portland needs people to engage deeply if we are going to achieve our Portland Promise equity goal of preparing and empowering all our students for the future. Question 5 places the responsibility for making key decisions about schools on the people who engage deeply – the elected Board of Public Education – and it trusts Portland’s smart and capable voters to affirm – or reject – the decisions they make.

Let’s work together to make that happen. Our kids, our schools and our city deserve no less. Vote “yes” on Question 5!

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