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Superintendent’s FY17 Budget Proposal Keeps District on Course

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Superintendent’s FY17 Budget Proposal Keeps District on Course
Posted on 03/08/2016
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Portland Interim Superintendent Jeanne Crocker has proposed a budget for fiscal year 2017 that keeps the Portland Public Schools on a positive course while making strategic reductions to address a $2.7 million reduction in state aid to the district. The budget proposal puts student learning first, invests in staff and respects the support of city residents.

The $103.7 million dollar budget, which Crocker presented to the Portland Board of Public Education on Tuesday, March 8, also is cognizant of taxpayers. It contains an expenditure increase of $947,924, or only .9 percent. However, combined with the loss in state revenue, the school portion of Portland’s property tax rate would increase by 46 cents or 4.5 percent, adding $46 to an annual tax bill per $100,000 of value.

“This budget is about more than just the bottom line. It represents the community’s hopes and dreams about the future of our children and also the future of our city, because Portland’s youth are its future leaders, job creators and workforce,” Crocker said. “That is why the budget that I and my team have crafted seeks to maintain the strong positive course the Portland Public Schools has set for itself in recent years.”

For example, she said, despite the unexpected and drastic reduction in state education aid to Portland, the proposed budget includes funding for a continued expansion of the district’s pre-kindergarten program, adding another class so that more families can take advantage of this valuable learning experience for their children. “Even in this difficult budget time, we need to grow and support our initiatives that increase student achievement,” Crocker said.

To be fiscally responsible, cuts had to be made to address the shortfall in state aid, Crocker said. However, she said, “the cuts we have made are very strategic ones that minimize the negative impact on teaching and learning.”  The budget also realigns and repurposes some resources to realize efficiencies and savings, Crocker said. For example, in one case it calls for moving staff from one school to another in order to keep class sizes equitable, she said. “In all our budget decisions, our focus was on maintaining a high quality of teaching and learning,” Crocker said, “We’ll continue to have close-to-ideal class sizes in order to foster innovation, communication and collaboration in both teaching and learning.”

The reduction in state support for schools directly impacts the budget, putting more demand on local taxpayers, Crocker said. To date, Portland and many other Maine communities have been told that their share of state education aid will be cut drastically in the new fiscal year. The reductions are due in part to the increasing cost of education, particularly special education, as well as a mil rate increase and changes in enrollment and communities’ valuation. As the state’s largest school district, Portland is hardest hit, with a devastating $2.7 million projected shortfall.

Recent developments from Augusta on March 8 indicate that state lawmakers may decide to allocate more education funding to help address the shortfall. “It’s possible that the state could decrease the amount of our state subsidy cut and that our budget will ultimately be one that focuses on student achievement through excellence in teaching and learning while respecting the financial investment made by the taxpayers of Portland,” Crocker said. “In the meantime, however, I and my Central Office team, with invaluable assistance from building leaders, have had to craft a budget that takes that reduction into account. I am pleased to say that in this budget you will find that we faced this challenging problem head on and worked collaboratively and positively to find unique possibilities to avoid more extreme and damaging cuts that threaten to harm student learning.”

Crocker said that despite such fiscally challenging circumstances, her school budget maintains current programs and invests in professional development for teachers and other staff to improve teaching and learning.

Personnel costs make up the largest portion of school expenditures – 79 percent. Recent budgets have stabilized those costs, and the cost for personnel in FY17 only increases by about $710,000, less than 1 percent.

The budget supports three overarching goals in the district’s Comprehensive Plan:

          All Portland Public Schools students will graduate from high school.

          All Portland Public Schools will demonstrate college and career readiness in the areas of academics, communication and critical thinking.

          All Portland Public Schools students will participate in activities that demonstrate service to our community, individual creativity and physical wellness.

After Crocker presented her budget to the school board, the board accepted it and referred it to the board’s Finance Committee. The committee, the school board and the City Council will all review the budget and hold public hearings before the proposal goes to voters on May 10.

Crocker encouraged parents, staff and other community members to get involved in the budget process over the next few months. “We value the voices of our parents, staff and community members to help pass a budget that ensures that all of Portland’s students have access to a high quality education that prepares them for college and careers in the 21st century,” she said.

To learn more about the budget, go to the “Budget” quick link on the Portland Public Schools’ website, www.portlandschools.org.  A budget timeline and the Budget Toolkit are designed to help the public learn more about the school budget process and get involved in it.