Ryan Scallon is superintendent of Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@portlandschools.org.

I presented my proposed $161 million budget for the 2024-25 school year to the Board of Public Education two weeks ago – and have already heard quite a lot about what people like about the budget, and also what they’d like to change. I welcome this feedback because I consider the superintendent’s recommended budget a starting point for all the discussions that the board and the entire Portland Public Schools community now need to engage in. That’s the only way we can successfully address the unique fiscal challenges we face in FY25 and arrive at a final school budget that truly lives up to its theme of “Centering Students.”

Our budget process actually began back in July, when I began a process of listening and learning involving all members of our community to develop a new five-year strategic plan – with the goal of aligning our FY25 and future budgets with that emerging plan.

We also recognized that our district faces unique challenges in FY25. The loss of about $9.4 million in federal COVID relief funds and other revenues, relatively flat state funding and increasing expenses meant we started our budget process with a $19.4 million shortfall. We had to find ways to address that budget shortfall with strategic reductions and restructuring.

Based on priorities identified in the strategic plan, we developed five principles that guided us in making reductions and restructuring:

• Aligning budget priorities to the developing strategic plan

• Making budget cuts that minimize the impact on students


• Identifying opportunities for strategic investments and not just reductions

• Reviewing all expenses and not just expenses currently paid for by COVID funds

• Making progress in building a sustainable organizational structure

Those principles led us to ensure reductions in this budget are as far away from students as possible. The principles also led us to not just make cuts, but also to include strategic investments that enhance student mental health and learning, and also to maintain funding for the arts and increase enrichment classes – art, music, gym, library, environmental literacy and foreign language – at the elementary level.

March is Youth Art Month and also Music in Our Schools Month, and accomplishments of students in the arts this month highlight the importance of these enrichment programs:

• Creative artwork from PPS students is included in the Portland Museum of Art’s annual Youth Art Month exhibition, on display throughout March.


• The Deering High School Players – directed by our own 2024 Maine Teacher of the Year Joshua Chard – took home the Class A trophy at the Maine Drama Festival regionals March 8 and 9 and won five acting awards.

• The district’s 44th annual All City concert took place on March 13, featuring students in Grades 6-12 performing in band, chorus and orchestra.

Congratulations to these students and the dedicated teachers who foster and grow their talents.

My proposed budget also includes a variety of very difficult trade-offs to address our fiscal shortfall. Those include restructuring Central Office, with the elimination of 30 positions there, and a few targeted reductions of school staff.

Even with these painful trade-offs, this budget will require an increase in the property tax rate of 6.85%, resulting in about $191 added to the annual tax bill of the median-priced ($375,000) home in Portland. However, that tax rate increase is significantly lower than the 17.41% that would be necessary to address our shortfall without any cuts.

The board and the City Council will be discussing and reviewing the budget over the next couple of months. I encourage the community to view the budget calendar on our website and join the discussion.

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