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Board Approves FY22 $125.2M School Budget

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Board Approves FY22 $125.2M School Budget
Posted on 04/13/2021
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The Portland Board of Public Education on April 13 voted to approve a $125.2 million school budget proposal for the 2021-2022 school year. The budget contains investments to address three themes: “Advancing Equity,”  “Integrating innovations from COVID” and “Rebuilding academic and social emotional foundations post COVID.”

On April 26, the Board’s budget will be presented to the City Council, which sets the budget’s bottom line.

The Board’s FY22 school budget is up 4.4 percent or $5.3 million over this year’s budget of $119.9 million. About $2.4 million of the increase is a baseline budget that maintains current programs and services and covers increased costs for salaries, benefits and debt service. Equity investments totaling $2.9 million make up the remainder. The budget, which assumes a full return to in-person learning this fall, requires an increased investment of $6.2 million from local taxpayers, and would result in a 5.5 percent increase in the school portion of the tax rate.

The budget the Board approved is approximately $660,000 less than the $125.8 million budget proposed by Superintendent Xavier Botana in March. Since that time, the district learned that the district’s share of health insurance costs for employees would be $661,000 less than anticipated. Also, the district’s share of state funding for career and technical education was $90,000 more than expected.

The budget would raise the overall school tax rate by 64 cents. For a home valued at $250,000 that would result in a tax increase of about $160 per year, just over $13 per month. Last year, due to fiscal uncertainties caused by the pandemic, the FY21 school budget contained no tax increase.

Other than those fiscal changes, the goals of the Board’s budget are aligned to the ones presented by the superintendent, with advancing equity as the central goal. The budget contains investments to address achievement and opportunity gaps for students who are English language learners, have disabilities and are economically disadvantaged. The gaps for many of those students have increased during the pandemic.

“I believe this budget is an expression of our values as a school district and a community,” said Board Chair Emily Figdor. “It’s an investment, but an absolutely critical investment to address the inequities in our school district.”

The City Council is slated to receive the Board’s budget on April 26. “I look forward to working with the Council to help councilors understand why this budget is so critical,” Figdor said. The Council sets the bottom line of the school budget.

The budget includes $2.9 million in centering Equity investments in FY22 to:

        Invest in the districts Lau plan, which ensures  the proper identification, programming and English language services for English language learner (ELL) students. The budget would ensure that schools have the ELL teachers necessary to support mainstream teachers in effectively meeting the needs of their ELL students within a mainstream classroom, while preserving the level of intensive English language learning supports that ELL students need; establish a support structure for students with limited and interrupted formal educational experiences; and enable the resources to support the needs of students who are dually identified as ELL and having disabilities: $1,026,793.

        Continue to grow the districts pre-kindergarten program (as part of the districts five-year pre-K expansion plan) with two additional classrooms and also providing transportation: $216,935.

        Scale up curriculum and professional development by increasing support for high school mathematics instruction and resourcing to support the development and curriculum in Wabanaki and Africana studies: $103,327.

        Enhance special education services by extending support for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in middle schools and establish an additional classroom for students with ASD at the elementary level to respond to growing numbers: $305,498.

        Enhance special education services by adding a Functional Life Skills teacher and educational technician at Deering High School to support the increase in students in this program: $108,667.

        Provide the resources to effectively implement the School Boards new Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination policy, including stipends for school-based liaisons and creating the position of a district ombudsman: $120,968.

        Affirm the districts commitment to developing staff capacity to become an anti-racist institution by shifting the cost of the districts director of diversity, equity and inclusion from philanthropic grants to the districts budget: $119,132.

        Strengthen the districts support for hiring and supporting a diverse workforce by establishing a Human Resources position to operationalize recruitment and affinity supports for educators of color; compensate our diverse staff appropriately for linguistic and identity-based work they perform; and create pathways to career development for our diverse staff: $398,807.

In addition to the investments that center Equity, the budget also includes investments related to the pandemic:

        As part of addressing student physical and mental health needs arising from the pandemic, the budget would increase nurse (.2 FTE) and social work staffing (3.5 FTE): $273,400. 

        Reflecting the districts commitment to build on innovation and new learning from the pandemic, the budget includes funding to support a position to lead the ongoing professional development and support needed to integrate new investments in technology: $122,560.  It also establishes the position of outdoor learning coordinator in order to continue and expand on this year’s outdoor learning initiative into the future: $93,059.

The district has received $24.4 million in CRF to date. The money is being used for needs that include 53 new staff members in one-year positions, facilities improvements, agreements with community partners to provide childcare programs for students when not in school, new technology, dedicated substitute teachers, a robust summer school program to help students reconnect to school that is district, school and community based, and  for supporting the increase in-person instruction while adhering to physical distance requirements, with tents and new furniture and equipment.

To realize an FY21 budget with no tax increase last year, $650,000 of the money was used to pay the salaries and benefits of 20 custodians. The district plans to use CRF money to continue to fund those positions over the next two budget years, but that plan can’t be sustained when the federal support ends, so eventually those positions will have to be funded in the operating budget.

The district expects to receive additional funding of approximately $18 million from the most recent pandemic relief package, which can be used through the summer of 2024. The district plans to use some of the money to address student learning loss through additional summer programs in 2023 and 2024. Also, that funding will go to support reopening school this fall, used for such needs as additional teachers and teacher aides if physical distancing guidelines still are in place. On April 6th, the superintendent proposed a participatory budgeting process for the remainder of the money, in which community stakeholders would develop sustainable ideas that could include such things as improving science labs across the school system or improving Central Kitchen facilities to enhance the kind of meals students have access to. Those ideas would be vetted and voted on by stakeholders and approved by the Board.

The Council will hold a public hearing on the school budget on May 3 and vote on the budget May 10. A public referendum on the school budget will take place on June 8.

A complete budget timeline and budget documents can be found on the district’s website.

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with 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 school meals.