Portland public school officials introduced an updated budget at a board meeting Tuesday night and heard a range of opinions about how the district should use a $3.6 million windfall in state funding.

While some who spoke at the meeting wanted the district to use the money to reduce the tax burden, others urged school leaders to invest all of the money in the city’s schools.

“Not increasing the (tax) rate when inflation is so high is really a cut to our schools,” East End Community School parent Damon Yakovleff said.

The district’s updated budget would spend $2.6 million of the windfall on the schools and $1 million to reduce the tax burden.

The updated budget totals $143.8 million for the 2023-24 school year, up $2.5 million in spending from the original budget proposal of $143.1 million. It includes around $1 million to reduce the tax increase, which would lower the hike in the school portion of the property tax from 7 percent to 6 percent. That shift would decrease the tax burden by almost $30 annually, bringing the change down to $159 from $187 for an owner of a $375,000 home, the median home value in Portland.

The new budget, which proposes a $10.7 million spending increase over this year’s $133.1 million budget calls for the district to do an about-face on some of the cuts it was proposing and move positions that were to be funded with one-time federal COVID relief money back into the local budget.


Co-interim superintendents Melea Nalli and Aaron Townsend said that move would free up COVID funds for use next year and could help cushion the district from an anticipated funding cliff when the COVID funds are no longer available.

In the updated budget, cellphone stipends and cuts to three community volunteer coordinator positions would be reversed and cuts to non-salary expenses would be reduced from 5% to 4%.

Nine math coaches, 16 classroom teachers and five youth development coordinators would be moved from the district’s one-time federal COVID funding back into the local budget.

The district still plans to use $2.3 million of federal COVID funding to support operations, central services, multilingual learners, summer programming, education technician positions and behavioral support roles.

The tweaks to the budget follow an announcement from the state Department of Education last week that Maine school districts would receive a total of $42 million more in state funding than expected for the current school year.

The initial subsidy amounts that the department’s school finance team sent to school districts in January were incorrect because of a mistake in the data used to calculate the allocations, the department said. The department discovered the problem while reviewing school district allocations and notified districts last Tuesday about the recalculated state subsidies.


A majority of school districts, 168 of 233, around the state will receive increased funding now that the department has corrected the allocations. The other 95 will not see a change.

School officials said they’ve seen small changes between initial and final state subsidy calculations but that they had never seen changes of this scale.

Adjusting for the increased state funding was in many ways a welcome task for the Portland co-interim superintendents, Nalli and Townsend, but it was also a challenge to make significant shifts at this point in the budget process. The superintendents got the news of the altered state subsidy just moments before heading into a meeting with the school board’s finance committee during which it was scheduled to vote on the budget. The committee postponed the meeting and reviewed the budget and voted to pass it to the full board last night.

In addition to requests that the district use the $1 million currently set aside to reduce the tax increase for the schools, community members asked that the district consider funding specific positions and priorities including greater funding for Portland Adult Education, to allow the school to pay its educators for more prep time, and a full-time social worker for the Peaks Island elementary school.

One speaker urged the district to further decrease the tax burden. “I think you can do better than that,” said Portland resident Steven Scharf, who asked the district to use another $1 million to further reduce the tax burden.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget April 11. The budget will then to go to City Council for a vote on May 15 and to city voters on June 13.

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