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Board’s FY21 School Budget Has 0% Tax Increase

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Board’s FY21 School Budget Has 0% Tax Increase
Posted on 05/28/2020
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At the Portland Board of Public Education’s virtual special meeting on May 26, the Board voted unanimously to recommend a $119.9 million FY21 school budget to the City Council.

While the proposed budget is up 2.1 percent over the current FY20 budget, it will result in a 0 percent increase on the school portion of the city’s tax rate.

As part of the process of finding reductions, the Board directed Superintendent Xavier Botana to sit down with some of the district’s unions to discuss such options as possible partial reductions from their already negotiated cost-of-living (COLA) raises in the new fiscal year, or any other ideas the unions might propose for reaching the needed reductions. Also on the table as possible cuts are COLA increases for non-union employees and for other bargaining units that have yet to finalize renewed contracts with the district.

The Board also told Botana to look for as much as $400,000 in savings in other line items in the budget, depending on the outcome of those union discussions. Those line items include the district’s COVID-19 contingency fund, professional and tech services, employee training and development, staff travel, building repair and maintenance and technology purchases, such as software licenses.

The Board did not support increased reductions in athletics and co-curricular activities to make up the gap, a proposal that had been recommended and approved by the Board’s Finance Committee. The budget already contains $140,000 in cuts in that area.

The budget now goes to the Council, which sets the bottom line of the school budget. The Council is slated to hold a first read of the proposal on June 1. The council will hold a public hearing and a vote on the budget on June 15 and that budget will go to Portland voters at the July 14 primary.

The budget that the Board has recommended 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 has endorsed the no-tax-increase school budget that the Board approved yesterday. 

The budget the Board approved is $2.4 million less than the initial FY21 budget that Superintendent 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 downward several times during the budget process.

The 2.1 percent expenditure increase in the Board’s $119.9 million budget is largely due to bargained COLA salary 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 called 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 Board’s budget does not include the majority of the planned Equity investments in the superintendent’s initial budget. However, the budget 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 offsets escalating costs and a reduction in federal funding to continue support services in schools with a high number 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 budget includes reductions including fourth- and fifth-grade Spanish language classes and other enrollment-based staffing adjustments.

To view the budget and learn more details, go to the Budget Development page on the district's website.

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.