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$161.4 Million School Budget Heads to Council

At its meeting on Tuesday, April 9, the Portland Board of Public Education voted to approve a $161.4 million school budget for fiscal year 2025 to send to the City Council. The Board will present its recommended FY25 budget to the Board on April 22.

The recommended budget for the 2024-2025 school year builds off a theme of “Centering Students,” which summarizes the essential priority of this budget. It includes strategic funding for increased student mental health, reading support, special education and school culture support at the school level. The FY25 budget also supports increased rigor in the classroom, and maintains funding for athletics, extracurriculars, and class sizes.

The proposed budget also is mindful of Portland taxpayers. The budget process required that the district confront unique fiscal challenges for FY25. The loss of about $9.4 million in federal COVID relief funds and other revenues, relatively flat state funding and increasing expenses meant that the district started the budget process with a $19.4 million shortfall. Without any cuts, that shortfall would have necessitated a 17.41% increase in the school portion of the tax rate.

However, due to strategic reductions and restructuring, the Board’s budget calls for an increase of 6.6% ($0.49) in the school tax rate. For the owner of a $375,000 median-priced home in Portland, this would result in an increase in taxes of $183.75 per year or just over $15 per month. Previous versions of the FY25 school budget were expected to result in a 6.85% increase in the school tax rate, but city property valuations that were revised as of April 1 brought that figure down to 6.6%.

Board Chair Sarah Lentz said, “I want to thank all of those involved in the process of this budget. It has truly been a community effort to get this budget to land where it is now. It has been an incredibly hard process because we faced increased expenses, flat state funding and the end of COVID funding. While this budget does still include sizable reductions – and we will feel each one – it also includes strategic funding that will benefit students and support teachers and which are connected to our foundation of equity. We are hopeful that everyone will help us in advocating for its passage at the City Council.”

Superintendent Ryan Scallon said, “To address the significant fiscal challenges in FY25, this budget entails some really difficult trade-offs. However, the end result is a fair proposal that centers students, supports staff, provides additional resources to schools and is aligned to our emerging strategic plan, while being cognizant of Portland taxpayers.”

The budget process began back in July, when Scallon joined the district and commenced a months-long listening and learning process involving all members of the community to develop a new five-year strategic plan. The goal is to align the FY25 and future budgets with that emerging plan.

Based on priorities identified in the strategic plan, five principles guided the reductions and restructuring in the budget:

●      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 ensured reductions in the budget were made as far away from students as possible. The principles also led to not just cuts but also to including strategic investments that enhance student mental health and learning and increasing enrichment classes – art, music, gym, library, environmental literacy and foreign language – at the elementary level.

On March 5, the superintendent presented a recommended budget of $161 million.

After extensive review, the Board’s Finance Committee voted on April 1 to increase that overall budget proposal by just over 600,000 to add 17 staff positions to the budget. The Finance Committee’s Recommended budget did not add to the tax rate increase in the superintendent’s budget because the Committee offset those increases by including:

➢   $300,000 in MaineCare revenue. A revenue stream that was not previously included in the FY25 budget.

➢   A $322,602 reduction in budgeted PFML (parental and family medical leave) expenses to reflect our current bargaining agreements that will delay the district's need to budget PFML costs until FY26 for some employees.

➢   A reduction of $559,283 in budgeted benefits as the district continued to receive additional information about lower benefits costs for FY25 than initially budgeted.

➢   An additional $313,071 in the use of the fund balance reserves for FY25.

On April 9, the Board also voted to add in another position – that of middle school math coach – and to incorporate into the budget an additional $326,035 in health insurance savings, based on the district’s final notification from its insurer regarding the cost of employee health insurance benefits in FY25. After covering the cost of the math coach with those funds, the Board directed the remainder to be used to reduce the use of the fund balance in the Finance Committee’s budget down from $3,813,071 to $3,582,780.

This year, for the first time, the school budget was presented in a more comprehensive manner, with all revenues and expenses presented, not just those in the local budget. Compared to the total overall FY24 budget of approximately $163.1 million, the FY25 budget is $161.4 million, a reduction of about $1.7 million. The FY24 budget consists of a local budget of $144 million and $19 million in non-local funds. The FY25 budget consists of $154 million in the local part of the budget, with $7 million in other funds.

Below are some specific highlights at the district-wide and elementary, middle and high-school levels of the Board’s recommended budget:


●      Maintains or increases mental health staff

●      Maintains staffing for multilingual learners

●      Budgets all schools to have a Special Education Coordinator

●      Increases the number of schools with proactive school climate staff

●      Maintains class size guidance

●      Establishes Network Support Teams specializing in, and dedicated to, outcomes at elementary schools or middle/high schools

●      Maintains Central Office capacity for Tech Integration and Outdoor Learning Fieldwork


●      Staffs all schools to have five specials (e.g. art, music, gym, library, environmental literacy, foreign language) per week

●      Provides all teachers with five preparation periods per week

●      Increases intervention staff - training and materials

●      Increases teachers and education technicians at Title I schools

Middle Schools:

●      Maintains students having access to art, music, foreign language & STEM and extracurricular funding

●      Increases reading and math intervention staff - training and materials

●      Offers algebra at each middle school

●      Maintains Make It Happen at the middle school level despite it previously being grant funded

High Schools:

●      Maintains funding for athletics & extracurriculars

●      Funds High School of the Future staff member and external support

●      Maintains Extended Learning Opportunities at Portland and Deering high schools

●      Maintain transitional capacity for students with IEPs and Multilingual Learners

To address the fiscal challenges of FY25, and to center students and invest in schools, the recommended budget includes a variety of savings and adjustments. Highlights include:

●      Central Office: Restructured for effectiveness and efficiency, with a cut of 20 positions and initial cost savings estimated at more than $2.6 million.

●      Special Education: To provide additional capacity at the school level, reducing the number of special education staff at Central Office by 12 FTE (FY24 21 FTE).

●      Transportation: Increasing budgeted staffing in transportation to reduce the District’s reliance on contracted bus companies. The department will also not purchase new buses in FY25. The budgeted estimated savings are $919,000.

●      Facilities: The Facilities department is budgeted to reduce the overall number of custodians by 9 FTE and move a small number of staff to a Tuesday - Saturday schedule. This produces budgeted savings of $570,000.

●      School Staffing: Overall staffing at the school level remains relatively flat from FY24 to FY25, but there are a few targeted reductions, with savings from those re-invested in schools in other staffing additions.

●      Stipends and Differentials: The district continues to work with union partners to both emphasize staff/teacher leadership and lower the overall expenses of stipends. The budgeted expenses for stipends/differential goes from $2.1 million in FY24 to $1.6 million in FY25.

●      Fund Balance: To offset financial challenges, the budget proposes using $3.58 million in fund balance, a slight reduction from the amount of fund balance used in FY24.

Board Chair Lentz will present the Board recommended FY25 budget to the council on Monday, April 22. There will continue to be opportunities for public comment as the Council and its Finance Committee review the school budget before voting on May 20 to approve a school budget to send to Portland voters on June 11. View FY25 school budget materials and a budget calendar on the district’s website HERE.

Watch the April 9 Board meeting and vote on YouTube.

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with more than 6,600 students, and it’s also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of 53 languages. Approximately 48 percent of the district’s students are white and 52 percent are students of color. Nearly half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.