The Portland Board of Public Education on April 5 voted unanimously to approve a $133.1 million school budget proposal for the 2022-2023 school year. The theme of the FY23 budget is “Keeping the focus on teaching and learning.” The Board’s budget goes to the City Council on April 11.
The Board’s recommended budget would enable the district to stay the course on achieving its Portland Promise goals of Achievement, Whole Student and People – all of which are centered by the key fourth goal of Equity.
The budget proposal is up $6.6 million over this year’s FY22 budget of $126.5 million. It calls for a 4.1 percent increase in the school portion of the tax rate, reflecting a 5.2 percent increase in expenditures. The increase includes few new investments and most of those have their own revenue sources that don’t increase the overall budget. The budget maintains current programs and services and covers increased costs for salaries, benefits and debt service.
It requires an increased investment of $4.8 million from local taxpayers. To achieve that, it would add 28 cents to the school portion of the city’s tax rate, for a total school tax rate of $7.05 per $1,000 valuation. The school budget would increase the annual tax bill of the median family home in Portland (valued at $365,000) by $102.20, less than $9 per month.
The budget would help maintain the investments the district has made over the past five years to support students experiencing opportunity gaps: students who are English language learners (ELL), have special educational needs, are economically disadvantaged or have otherwise been marginalized in society.
“I am proud to support this budget tonight,” said Board Chair Emily Figdor, prior to the budget vote. “This budget meets the moment. It continues our equity work while also recognizing the economic reality that we’re facing right now with inflation at historic levels.”
To advance the equity goal of the Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan, nearly $4 out of every $10 the district has invested during the past five years has gone directly to programs and services to aid in putting marginalized students on equal footing with their peers. The district has added multilingual social workers and counselors, behavioral health support staff and more ELL teachers, and invested in multilingual family engagement specialists and youth development staff. The district also invested in increased staff diversity and inclusion efforts, and expanded its prekindergarten program.
“It’s important not to backslide,” Superintendent Xavier Botana said. “The Board’s recommended budget will allow us to maintain and maximize the work we’ve started. This school year has been very challenging. We started the year with very ambitious goals, but as we were engulfed in the challenges of COVID, we have had to back away from many of our efforts in order to respond to immediate needs. This budget will help us maintain our Portland Promise investments next school year and ensure that our teachers and staff are able to fully focus on teaching and learning. Our goal is to build our capacity to strengthen core instruction for all students and make our schools more safe and equitable.”
The budget balances fiscal constraints, including a reduction in state education aid. The district is seeing a reduction of $2.6 million in state aid compared to its FY22 state funding, driven for the most part by the $12 billion state valuation of Portland property values. The state allocates less funding to schools in communities that have high property valuation like Portland, expecting those property-rich communities to contribute more to local education. Other factors involved in the decrease in state aid include a 1.7 percent drop in enrollment and a reduction in the number of students identified as eligible for free and reduced lunch.
Declining revenues are coupled with increasing expenses for FY23. Costs have climbed for many of the goods and services the district procures, in line with the nearly 8 percent increase in the annual consumer price index for this past year.
Due to a nationwide labor shortage, the district has struggled to find workers to fill positions and has had to outsource functions such as transportation, facilities and some central office functions. These contracted services, many of which are expected to continue in FY23, come at higher costs.
The district’s People goal commits it to attracting and retaining the most talented and diverse staff. The Portland Public Schools is prioritizing compensating its hardworking People, who also are facing increased costs every day. The district recently settled a contract with the bargaining unit representing secretaries and transportation, custodial, food service, technology and maintenance workers with an increase in the range of 6 percent. It is currently negotiating with its other bargaining units, including the largest union representing teachers and specialists.
Finally, renovations are underway for the three remaining schools in the four-school Buildings for our Future bond approved by Portland voters in a 2017 referendum. Through careful financing and use of reserves, the district has been able to defer the impact of debt payments for these projects over time, but is seeing a significant increase in debt service for FY23.
The budget contains some essential new investments, most with their own dedicated funding streams. Altogether these new investments total a little more than $500,000, or less than one half of one percent of the proposed budget.
The budget calls for adding one additional pre-kindergarten classroom, which allows the district to stay on track with its five-year kindergarten expansion plan. Career and Technical Education reserves will support staffing needed to create opportunities for Latinx students to participate in PATHS programming. The district’s Latinx students experienced higher levels of chronic absenteeism during the pandemic, and the district is taking steps to address that. The district also is restructuring its library programming to prioritize increasing the number of full-time certified librarians in elementary schools to support content-based literacy work. Hourly staffing funds will be reallocated to create a certified teacher position at Portland Adult Education.
Other additions include adding an educational technician to support the new state-mandated educational services for students with special needs until they are 22 years old; increasing the district’s social studies coordinator to a full-time position (from .8 FTE); and adjusting the compensation for the executive director of the Foundation for Portland Public Schools (FPPS) to match the compensation for comparable roles in the nonprofit sector. FPPS is a nonprofit organization that has raised more than $1 million in donations, grants, contributions and other gifts so far in FY22 to support increased educational opportunities, achievement, and equity for all Portland Public Schools students and staff.
The Board’s recommended budget is based on the FY23 $132.9 million budget that the superintendent proposed on March 15. The Board ended up adding just over $153,000 to the superintendent’s budget proposal, resulting in a Board recommended budget of $133.1 million.
The additional funding adds 3.5 key staff positions to the budget. Those are a full-time social worker at Rowe Elementary School; two half-time ELL teachers, one for Lyseth Elementary School and one for Deering High School; and increasing the hours for the social worker for the island schools to make that a half-time position.
However, because those positions will be paid for with available Fund Balance Reserves, they will not add to the 4.1 percent increase in the tax rate called for in the superintendent’s budget.
The district is fortunate to have significant federal coronavirus-related funding. The Board plans to leverage those funds to address unmet needs not covered in this budget. That funding is not renewable, so the Board will have to consider the continuing impact on the budget of uses of the federal funds that it approves. That funding discussion will expand to a participatory budgeting process that includes the community.
On April 11, the Board will present its recommended budget to the City Council, which sets the bottom line of the school budget. After review, the Council will vote on the school budget in May and send it to city voters for final approval at the polls June 14.
The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with approximately 6,500 students, and is 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 more than 60 languages. 52 percent of the district’s students are white and 48 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.