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Equity is Focus of FY21 School Budget

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Equity is Focus of FY21 School Budget
Posted on 03/10/2020
This is the image for the news article titled Equity is Focus of FY21 School Budget Superintendent Xavier Botana presented his $122.3 million school budget proposal for the 2020-2021 school year to the Portland Board of Public Education on Tuesday, March 10. The theme of his FY21 budget proposal is “Addressing the Opportunity Gap.” It calls for enhancing the district’s Equity goal by making investments to reduce gaps in achievement and opportunity for the district’s economically disadvantaged students, students of color and English language learner (ELL) students.

In order to make those investments, while still keeping the budget’s school tax rate increase within City Council guidance, Botana proposes reductions and efficiencies in existing programs and services and reinvesting some of those savings to support the Equity-based investments.

The Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan, has four goals designed to ensure that students are prepared and empowered to succeed in college and career: Achievement, Equity, Whole Student and People. Botana said that Equity – reducing the achievement and opportunity gaps for economically disadvantaged students, students of color and ELL students  – is the centerpiece of the four goals for the Portland Public Schools, Maine’s largest and most diverse school district.

“However, we have a long way to go to reach Equity,” Botana said. “When we compare the data of our students who are not disadvantaged with the data of our least advantaged students, we see great disparities. This does not reflect the values of Portland, a city that cares about everybody. I believe that as a community, we need to step up to the plate and live those values in our FY21 budget by continuing to invest in Equity-focused programs, services and initiatives to reduce the persistent opportunity gaps between students.”

Botana said the district has identified nearly $4 million in priority investments needed to address opportunity gaps. Those investments would continue to enhance the district’s five-year pre-kindergarten expansion plan and strengthen supports for students with disabilities and ELL students.

However, he said he recognizes that level of investment exceeds the district’s capacity to raise the necessary revenue to fund it in just one year. “Thus, as we did last year with our pre-K and Behavioral Health Continuum, I believe that we have the data and process in place to phase these investments in over the coming years,” Botana said.

To start phasing $1.3 million of such opportunity gap investments in the FY21 budget, Botana is proposing reductions and changes to existing programs and services and reinvesting some of the savings to support pre-K expansion, address the most critical needs of students with disabilities and make an investment in implementing the district’s Lau Plan. The Lau Plan ensures the proper identification, programming and English language services for ELL students.  

His budget calls for the following in Equity-based investments in FY21: 
Continuing to expand the district’s pre-K program with two additional classrooms (included in the baseline budget), as well as providing transportation: $300,000.
Sustaining and deepening core instruction by scaling up curriculum and professional development in areas such as math and phonics: $165,000
Investing in the district’s Lau plan by ensuring that schools have the necessary ELL teachers in K-12 to enable the districts to establish the collaboration structures that allow mainstream teachers to effectively meet the needs of their ELL students within the mainstream classroom setting, while preserving the level of intensive English language learning supports that these students need: $441,000.
Enhancing special education services by extending supports for students with autism spectrum disorder in high school and addressing high caseloads in targeted areas: $390,000.

Botana’s proposed $122.3 million budget for FY21 is up $4.9 million or 4.2 percent over FY20. It requires an increased investment from local taxpayers of $3.8 million. It would raise the overall school tax rate by 35 cents for a total rate of $12.04, an increase of 3 percent, which is in line with the City Council’s guidance for tax rate expectations. This would increase the school portion of the annual tax bill for the average family home in Portland (valued at $250k) by $88, or about $7 per month.

Botana’s budget proposal is about $450,000 less than the baseline budget that the district needs to cover expenses, such as the rising cost of salaries and benefits.

To address that gap, Botana is proposing the following reductions in current expenditures:
Three positions at the high school level ($195,000)
Central office / operations including one custodial position, adjustments to contractual services and contingencies ($191,000)
An across-the-board reduction of 3 percent to supplies budgets ($51,000)
A 2 percent reduction of the high school Athletics/Co-curricular budget ($40,000)

Additionally, in order to make the proposed Equity-focused priority investments in this year’s budget, he is proposing reductions and efficiencies in other areas. Botana proposes eliminating the district’s elementary Spanish program for fourth- and fifth-grade students and reorganizing the district’s elementary schools by coupling schools and establishing primary grade and intermediate grade configurations. Combined, these two reductions would result in a savings of $1.3 million, which becomes available to reinvest in the priority Equity-based investments.

 “These two recommendations are the result of careful evaluation and decision-making since this past fall, in which we explored a variety of possible savings options,” Botana said. “These two options are the only ones that emerged that are both currently viable, carry significant savings and have an educationally sound basis.”

Botana said the district is fortunate that its worst fears for a large decrease in state education aid in this budget cycle haven’t materialized. Instead, based on Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed supplemental state budget and other factors, the district has built its budget on the assumption of receiving an increase in state funding of about $745,000 over FY20. “While positive,” Botana said, “the increase in state revenue does not keep up with our revenue needs.” 

Additionally, he said, the district will need to offset significant pressure on its federal grant funds caused by reduced funding and the rising costs of the staff those grants support.
 
Also, the state’s complex school-funding formula allots less state funding to communities like Portland that have high property valuation, expecting those local communities to be able to contribute more to local education. “Under the current State funding formula, we expect that we will see reduced funding in future years,” Botana said.

Botana acknowledged his Equity-centered budget will require making some hard choices. However, he said, “This budget is a necessary investment in our city’s children, who are the future of Portland. We want to ensure that all Portland students have a quality education that prepares and empowers them to be tomorrow’s informed citizens and leaders.”

Botana encouraged the Portland community – families, school staff and other city residents – to stay engaged and informed in the budget process, which culminates in a June 9 public referendum on the budget. 

The Board on March 10 voted to refer the superintendent’s budget recommendation to its Finance Committee. That committee will hold its first review of the budget on Thursday, March 12, at 6 p.m. in room 234 (Rowe Memorial Room) of Central Office, located at 353 Cumberland Avenue. The committee also will hold a public forum on the budget proposal on Monday, March 16.

A complete budget timeline and budget materials can be found at this link on the district’s website: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_a-9BuKdwW84xibBmlHnzA6BteKDoAq_yE02OiHEBro/edit