This rendering shows the plan for renovating the entrance to the Longfellow School in Portland. Portland Public Schools

More than a dozen parents, teachers and community members pleaded with the Portland school board Tuesday to increase resources for students despite a looming $12.4 million budget gap that could require an 11% tax increase to close.

They said they are willing to pay higher property taxes and fight for greater investment in the Portland school district.

Superintendent of Portland Public Schools, Ryan Scallon Contributed photo

The school board held a meeting Tuesday night on the district’s 2024-25 budget, allowing district officials to discuss it and the financial pressures the district faces, and giving community members an opportunity to weigh in and ask questions.

Like school districts from York to Houlton, it’s likely to be challenging for Portland to maintain programming without significant tax increases. Inflation, a shrinking student body and the loss of COVID-19 funding are all contributing to a tough budget season.

An 11% tax increase on the school portion of the budget could drive up the tax bill for a median-priced home by about $300 a year.

Of more than 20 people who spoke at the public forum, three said they were concerned about the school budget’s impact on taxpayers.


“I know that you have a lot of challenges here and I know this year is a doozy,” said Ann Roderick. “I am always hearing about what the level of the increase in the tax rate is going to be. To me as a taxpayer it’s got to be zero.”  

“I would like to see that as an option or at least a consideration,” Roderick said.

But most of those who spoke advocated for raising taxes to pay for resources including classroom teachers, special education staff and mental health support staff.

Maya Lena, a Portland parent and substitute teacher, asked for smaller class sizes in elementary schools. She said a lack of staffing is creating an unsustainable situation, increasing teacher burnout and not allowing students enough interaction with their teachers.

Aoife Nugent said her child has had a great experience at East End Community School and she wants other students to have that.

“Watching his class size go from 25 last year to 17 this year was a game-changer,” she said. “I want that for every student.”


Nugent asked people to set aside their own needs and desire for low property taxes to ensure Portland’s future.

Kate McAlaine, a district guidance counselor, pleaded with the district for more resources to help students facing mental health challenges.

“We are in a severe youth mental health crisis,” McAlaine said. “Youth are severely hurting right now.”

Because she is spending so much time supporting kids with extreme and urgent needs, she struggles to find time to help students who need support but aren’t a priority, including two students who lost parents this year, she said, on the verge of tears.

“Please, please prioritize staffing to support the mental health needs of our students,” she said.

The district plans to align its budget priorities with its new strategic plan.


The district has been working on its five-year strategic plan since summer. The new plan will replace The Portland Promise, which the district followed for six years.

An outside firm hired by the district has found that Portland is facing several significant challenges, including persistent and wide achievement gaps between minority and economically disadvantaged students and their white and more affluent counterparts, a lack of consistent grade-appropriate education, disengaged students and unhappy staff. It also found that families served by the district are concerned about transportation services and a lack of strong operational procedures.

Much of the draft strategic plan is based on fixing these issues and maintaining district strengths, including that families feel welcome, staff believe that district leadership works to advance equity, and that many students appreciate staff.

The budget will align with the strategic plan by focusing on academic achievement, belonging, work environment and equity, Scallon said.

The district will also put money toward creating efficient systems. Last year, the district’s payroll process broke down, and hundreds of employees received incorrect pay or none at all. The missed pay left some employees in debt and struggling to pay for basic expenses.

The city also faces a municipal budget gap of more than $20 million for the upcoming year. Closing it could increase property taxes by around $500 a year for the owner of a median-priced home. Increasing the school budget would add to that increase.

This year’s school district budget is $143.9 million.

Scallon will present the district’s 2024-25 budget on March 5. The school board will vote on the budget on April 4, and then it goes to the City Council for a vote on May 20. The public is scheduled to vote on the budget on June 11.

This story was updated on Feb. 7 to correct the date of the public vote on the budget.

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