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School Board To Vote on Budget May 26

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School Board To Vote on Budget May 26
Posted on 05/26/2020
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The Portland Board of Public Education is slated to hold a Zoom special meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 26, to vote to recommend an FY21 school budget to the City Council, which sets the bottom line of the school budget.

The proposed $119.9 million budget is up 2.1 percent over the current FY20 budget but will result in a 0 percent tax increase. The budget is recommended by both the Board and Council finance committees. The Board is expected to discuss several options to find $472,000 in reductions that would make it possible to reach the no-tax-increase budget goal.

Among the options are increasing class sizes in grades 1-3 from a maximum of 22 students to 25 students. Currently, class sizes in those grades average about 19 or 20 per class and increasing the maximum to 25 is expected to result in an average of 20 to 21 students per class. The Board’s Finance Committee did not support that option.

The committee has said it supports another option of reducing Central Office contractual services by $100,000. The committee has expressed interest in the possibility of seeking $372,000 in cost-of-living (COLA) reductions from staff, which would entail renegotiating already-settled contracts with bargaining units in some cases. Reductions in athletics and co-curricular activities are also on the table as a last resort to make up the gap.

The budget before the Board reflects the harsh economic realities facing Portland as a result of COVID-19. The city is facing drastic revenue losses due to the pandemic and the Council’s Finance Committee had requested to see a no-tax-increase school budget.  At a joint meeting of the Board and City finance committees on May 21, the City Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend the proposed budget now before the Board.

That budget is $2.4 million less than the initial budget FY21 budget that superintendent Xavier Botana proposed to the Board on March 10. That budget was $122.3 million, up 4.2 percent over FY20, and would have resulted in a 3 percent increase in the school tax rate. Botana has revised that proposal several times during the budget process.

The 2.1 percent expenditure increase in the no-tax-increase budget proposal is largely due to bargained salary cost-of-living salary (COLA) increases and step increases, critical positions added during the current budget year and adjustments to other non-salary items such as utilities and insurance.

The district expects to receive about $1.9 million in federal CARES Act funding.  About $1.3 million of that funding will be used to offset cost escalations in the budget.

The theme of the FY21 budget proposal is “Addressing the Opportunity Gap,” and calls for enhancing the district’s Equity goal by making investments to reduce opportunity gaps for economically disadvantaged students, students of color, students with special needs and English language learner (ELL) students.

Although remote learning has likely increased those gaps, the majority of the planned Equity investments in the superintendent’s initial budget are no longer part of the reduced budget. The budget, however, still includes funding for two additional pre-kindergarten classes. That is part of the district’s five-year goal of annually expanding the district’s pre-K program to give students (particularly disadvantaged students) a head start on learning. 

The budget also includes a shift to the local budget of $665,000 in positions currently paid by Title funding.  This is necessitated by escalating costs and the district receiving less federal funding, which goes to support services in schools with a high enrollment of disadvantaged students.

The budget also adds an autism spectrum disorder program for high school students and investments in the math and literacy curriculums.

The proposed budget includes reductions including fourth- and fifth-grade Spanish language classes and other enrollment-based staffing adjustments.

“None of these reductions will be easy, but this budget is our best approach to balancing the needs of our students with the economic uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 crisis,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. “I am also hopeful that working together as a community, we will rise again in the future and create the equitable school system we strive to achieve.”

After the Board votes to recommend the school budget to the Council, the Council is slated to hold a public hearing and first read of the proposal on June 1. The council will vote on the budget on June 15 and that budget will go to Portland voters at the July 14 primary.

Instructions for Accessing the May 26 Meeting Using Zoom

Allow your computer to install the free Zoom app to get the best meeting experience. Participants can join by phone only, if they prefer. The meeting also will be streamed live on the Portland Public Schools Facebook page. If you are not able to attend live, the Portland Public Schools will later be posting a recording of the meeting on its YouTube channel.  

To view the meeting agenda & Board packet, go to: https://go.boarddocs.com/me/portland/Board.nsf/vpublic?open

The meeting can be accessed via this Zoom link:

https://zoom.us/j/95982546219?pwd=OEZCdlAwbjJ6WHVrNWxVOHpIdnRpdz09

Password: 497744

Or iPhone one-tap:

US: +13017158592,,95982546219# or +13126266799,,95982546219#

Or Telephone:

Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):

US: +1 301 715 8592 or +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 558 8656 or +1 253 215 8782 or +1 346 248 7799 or +1 669 900 9128

Webinar ID: 959 8254 6219

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with 6,750 students this year, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students – 35 percent – come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 60 languages. About 53 percent of the district’s students are white and 47 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced school lunch.