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Superintendent’s FY22 Budget Proposal

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Superintendent’s FY22 Budget Proposal
Posted on 03/16/2021
This is the image for the news article titled Superintendent’s FY22 Budget ProposalSuperintendent Xavier Botana presented his $125.8 million school budget proposal for the 2020-2021 school year to the Portland Board of Public Education on Tuesday, March 16. The theme of the FY22 budget proposal is “Advancing Equity.” It calls for putting the Portland Public Schools’ Equity goal at the center by making investments to address achievement and opportunity gaps for students who are English language learners, have disabilities and are economically disadvantaged.

Botana’s budget presentation came on the anniversary of the day in March 2020 when the district closed all its schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to centering on equity, the budget also recognizes the pandemic’s significant impact on students’ physical and mental health, calling for increases in nurse and social work staffing. The district made new investments in technology during the pandemic and established an outdoor learning program. The budget also proposes funding to build on those initiatives.

In order to make those investments while continuing current programming and services, the proposed budget is up 5 percent or $5.9 million over this year’s budget of $119.9 million. More than half of the increase – $3 million – 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, would result in a 6.3 percent increase in the school portion of the tax rate.

The Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan, has four goals: Achievement, Whole Student, People and Equity. Equity – reducing the achievement and opportunity gaps for students who are economically disadvantaged, students of color, ELL students and student with disabilities  – is the centerpiece of the four goals. At the Portland Public Schools, Maine’s largest and most diverse school district, COVID-19 has exacerbated learning and opportunity gaps.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has made indisputable the longstanding disparities that exist between different groups of students in our schools. We relish our diversity and see it as a strength, but our failure to recognize the disparities in opportunities for our students who are learning English, who have disabilities or are economically disadvantaged belies that commitment to diversity,” Botana said. “This past year it became evident that government institutions – including our school system – have failed to realize their potential for creating a more inclusive, just and equitable world. This proposed FY22 budget takes steps to redress this long-standing pattern by targeting resources to the students to whom we owe the largest educational debt: those who are learning English, have disabilities or are alienated in our schools.”

His budget calls for the following $2.9 million in centering Equity investments in FY22: 
Investing in the district’s Lau plan, which ensures  the proper identification, programming and English language services for English language learner (ELL) students. The budget calls for ensuring that schools K-12 have the ELL teachers necessary to establish collaboration structures that allow mainstream teachers to effectively meet the needs of their ELL students within a mainstream classroom, while preserving the level of intensive English language learning supports that ELL students need; establishing a support structure for students with limited and interrupted formal educational experiences; and resourcing to support the needs of students who are dually identified as ELL and having disabilities: $1,031,624.
Continuing to grow the district’s pre-kindergarten program (as part of the district’s five-year pre-K expansion plan) with two additional classrooms and also providing transportation by adding two dedicated bus routes and increasing supervision on other bus routes: $220,535.
Scaling 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: $103,808.
Enhancing special education services by extending support for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in our middle schools and establishing an additional classroom for students with ASD at the elementary level to respond to growing numbers: $309,458.
Enhancing 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: $109,867.
Providing the resources to effectively implement the School Board’s new Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination policy, including stipends for school-based liaisons and creating the position of a district ombudsman: $121,808.
Affirming the district’s commitment to developing our staff capacity to become an anti-racist institution by shifting the cost of the district’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion from philanthropic grants to the district’s budget: $120,208.
Strengthening the district’s support for hiring and supporting a diverse workforce by establishing a Human Resources position to operationalize recruitment and affinity supports for educators of color; compensating our diverse staff appropriately for linguistic and identity-based work they perform; and creating pathways to career development for our diverse staff: $399,647.

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

As part of addressing student physical and mental health needs arising from the pandemic, the budget proposes to increase our nurse (.2 FTE) and social work staffing (3.5 FTE): $274,778.  

Reflecting the district’s commitment to build on innovation and new learning from the pandemic, the proposed budget includes funding to support a position to lead the ongoing professional development and support needed to integrate new investments in technology: $123,400.  It also calls for establishing the position of outdoor learning coordinator in order to continue and expand on this year’s outdoor learning initiative into the future: $93,479. 

The proposed budget would raise the overall school tax rate by 74 cents. For a home valued at $250,000 that would result in a tax increase of $183.94 per year, just over $15 per month. Last year, due to fiscal uncertainties caused by the pandemic, the FY21 school budget contained no tax increase.

The budget requires an increased investment of $6.9 million from local taxpayers. The district is receiving less state education aid for FY22 – a decrease of $947,433 or 5.1 percent in state Essential Program and Services (EPS) funding compared to FY21. The decrease is largely due to the increase in the City of Portland’s valuation. The EPS formula allots less state funding to communities like Portland that have high property valuation, expecting those communities to be able to contribute more to local education.

The district is grateful to Governor Janet Mills’ commitment to increasing the percentage of school funding born by the State.  Without that commitment, which reduced the State mill rate, the Portland Public Schools would have seen a much larger decrease in State funding.

The district is fortunate to have significant federal coronavirus-related funding. However,  that funding has limitations on the ways it can be used and, because it’s not renewable, it’s not advisable to use it for long-term budgetary needs, such as permanent teaching positions. That type of use would be unsustainable in the operating budget when that federal funding ends.

Most of the district’s current remaining federal funding allocation of nearly $6 million is being primarily directed to support one-time investments in materials, professional development and infrastructure.  Some eligible costs have been shifted from the district’s budget to federal funding,  including $250,000 in debt service and operational costs associated with the district’s Central Office building on Cumberland Avenue. The district is planning to sell the building next year, freeing up money to fund other areas of strategic importance for students and staff. CO staff would work remotely or in other district spaces.

$2.25 million of the current federal funding is being directed at summer programming and expanded learning to accelerate recovery from the challenges of this year.  Approximately $1 million in current federal funding remains unallocated and can be used for other priorities, including increasing in-person instruction this spring.

The district expects to receive additional funding from the most recent pandemic relief package approved last week.  These funds are intended to support many of the same expenditures into FY23 and FY24.  They are welcome and necessary as the Portland Public Schools works to steward those resources strategically into the coming budget years.

Botana encouraged the Portland community – families, school staff and other city residents – to stay engaged and informed during the budget process, which culminates in a June 8 public referendum on the budget. 

The Board on March 16 referred the superintendent’s proposed budget to its Finance Committee. That committee will hold its first review of the budget on Thursday, March 18, via Zoom. The committee also will hold a Zoom public forum on the budget proposal on Monday, March 22. The full Board is scheduled to vote on a school budget on April 13. The City Council, which approves the bottom line of the school budget, will vote on it May 17.

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.