April 28, 2023
Dear Portland Public Schools families, staff and community members,
We hope everyone had a restorative April break and that you’re geared up for a strong finish to the 2022-2023 school year.
May is right around the corner. It’s the last full month of school before we conclude regular classes in June, so it’s a perfect time to appreciate our staff for all their hard work throughout this year. In fact, we’d like to declare May 2023 as Portland Public Schools Employee Appreciation Month!
May already has a number of days to recognize school staff. First comes National Teacher Day, on May 2 this year, followed by National Teacher Appreciation Week, May 8-12. This is a time to thank and honor our teachers, who work tirelessly every day to help our students succeed. Even as the immediate health crisis of the pandemic wanes, COVID’s impact on student learning and mental and emotional health remains, but throughout these challenges our teachers’ dedication and service to our students has remained steadfast. We deeply appreciate all our Portland Public Schools teachers for going above and beyond to support students and families. We encourage everyone to use this time to #ThankATeacher who has been important to you or your child, on social media or in person!
May 5 is School Lunch Hero Day. A new Maine state law that took effect this school year guarantees all students free school meals, regardless of their family's income. Students can’t learn when they’re hungry, so we’re not only thankful for this law but also so grateful to all our dedicated Food Service staff, who work so hard each day to ensure our students have tasty, nutritious meals to help power their learning. Our food service people show up for our students behind the scenes, and in community with them, and provide an essential contribution to supporting students' learning and social emotional health.
National School Nurse Day is on May 10. It comes in the middle of National Nurses Week, which runs May 6-12. Thank you to our school nurses for the care they give to our students every day. School nurses help students with preventive care such as flu shots and vision and hearing screening, as well as acute and emergency care. They also educate students about health and serve as a trusted support to students. For students with chronic health conditions, school nurses play a large role in the daily management of their conditions. They coordinate care by communicating with students’ families and health care providers. This year’s theme for National Nurses Week is “You Make a Difference” and that is certainly true of our PPS school nurses. Thank you to our school nurses for the positive impact you have on the lives of our students and families!
While there may not be a special day to recognize them this month, we also want to let all our other staff members know how much we appreciate them. We recently began a “You are Portland Public Schools Award” initiative as a way for staff to recognize each other for their contributions to our district. This recognition is a way to shout out to someone who has gone the extra mile, taken extra time, or extended added kindness and to support another staff member, student, or district operations.
Here’s a sampling of what our staff said about their colleagues in nominating them for this award: “His creativity and passion for teaching are an inspiration for me, and I constantly think to myself that they are the kind of teacher I want to be.” “You quietly and cheerfully take on any assignment to fill any vacancy in our building. The students and staff love you." “This person is a drop everything, problem solver, and all around especially nice person to work with. They are smart and capable and always willing to let us interrupt for the help we need. They never get annoyed, always listens to our problems and never lets on when it is a simple or silly problem we just had. Our whole team relies on their problem solving skills that allow us to continue to do our work, anytime we need it.”
Although their jobs vary, this new award underscores that each and every staff member plays a key role in assisting the Portland Public Schools in realizing its mission of helping students succeed and thrive in our increasingly complex world. We are extremely grateful to all our staff for everything that they do – not just in May but throughout the year!
We’ll also take this opportunity to provide the latest on the school budget. We are very pleased to report that yesterday, Thursday, April 27, the City Council’s Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend the Portland Board of Public Education’s $143.8 million school budget for the 2023-2024 school year to the full City Council. Members of that Council committee praised the collaborative way the district and Board worked with the Council to craft the FY24 budget and said they appreciated the efforts to meet student and staff needs while reining in costs.
Earlier this week, on Monday, April 24, the Board formally presented its FY24 budget to the Council. We joined Board Chair Sarah Lentz in making the presentation. You can read our detailed statement to the Council about the Board’s recommended budget at this link on our website, but we’ll give a few highlights here.
As we told the Council, this budget is a fair and responsible one at a time of daunting fiscal challenges. It reinvests in core operations such as finance and human resources, while also investing in student-facing staff to support all of our students, including our many newly arrived multi-language learners. Within this budget, we’ve also done our best to anticipate and plan for the FY25 budget, when the district will no longer have access to federal COVID money and will likely face decreased funding from the state level. This budget does all that while simultaneously being mindful of the tax burden on Portland residents in a year when inflation is higher than most can remember.
When the Board approved the budget on April 11, we expected that it would result in a 6 percent increase in the school portion of the tax rate. However, the district learned on April 24 that – as a result of an update to the City’s property valuation estimate – the budget’s impact on the tax rate will now be lower than 6 percent.
The Board’s recommended budget calls for a 5.7 percent increase in the school portion of tax rate. That is in line with inflation. After weeks of hard work, it also is a significant downward revision from the district’s 15.5 percent original needs assessment increase, the 7 percent increase we initially proposed in our superintendents’ budget on March 14 and the 6.1 percent increase the Board Finance Committee recommended on April 3.
The budget would raise the overall school tax rate by 40 cents, for a total rate of approximately $7.45 per $1,000 valuation. It would increase the annual tax bill for the median family home in Portland (valued at $375,000) by $150 per year, or $12.50 per month.
Now that the Council’s Finance Committee voted 3-0 to recommend the Board’s budget, it is in the hands of the full City Council. This Monday, May 1, the Council, which sets the bottom line of the school budget, will hold a first reading and public hearing on the school budget. On May 15, the Council will hold a second reading on the budget and vote to send it to city voters for a referendum vote on June 13.
Your engagement has been essential throughout this budget process, and we encourage you to continue your involvement during this final budget phase. Your input remains crucial as we work to ensure that the Portland Public Schools has a 2023-2024 school budget that enables us to continue to prepare and empower all our students for college and career.
Finally, May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which focuses on how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have enriched America's history and has been instrumental in its success. At a time when violence against Asian Americans is on the rise, we’d like to express our support of our AAPI students, families and staff. You are valued members of our community and integral to its success!
Melea Nalli and Aaron Townsend, Interim Co-Superintendents