Portland School Board approves $133.1 million budget for next year

The Portland School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a budget of $133.1 million for the 2022-23 school year.

“I am proud to support this budget tonight,” said Board Chair Emily Figdor. “This budget corresponds to the moment. It continues our work on equity by also acknowledging the economic reality we face right now with inflation at historic levels.

It totals $150,000 more than Superintendent Xavier Botana’s proposed spending plan in March and includes funds to increase salaries and benefits for faculty and staff, pay for teaching materials and professional development, and expand the district pre-K program.

The Board-approved budget is approximately $6.5 million higher than the current year’s budget of $126.5 million, an increase of 5.2%.

If passed by City Council in May and voters in June, the budget would increase Portland’s school tax rate share by 28 cents, or 4.1%, from $6.77 per 1,000 $valuation at $7.05 per $1,000. The increase would result in an $84 tax increase for the owner of a $300,000 home. Last year, the school portion of the budget increased the municipal tax rate by 3.9%.

The additional $150,000 would pay for extra social workers and English teachers, come entirely from school district reserves, and would not in itself raise the tax rate.

The budget focuses on maintaining current programs, strengthening teaching and creating safer and more equitable schools, according to Botana. Over the past five years, the school district has nearly doubled its investments in equity and mental health. In the 2017-18 school year, the district spent nearly $8 million on English teachers, pre-kindergarten, family engagement and mental health support. In 2021-22, that amount jumped to over $14 million.

Botana said the goal of next year’s budget is to maintain the work the district has begun.

Money is expected to be tight next year for Portland schools. The district is expected to receive less state and federal funding next year and is struggling with inflation.

This year the district received $24 million from the state, but next year it expects to receive more than $21.4 million. The district also expects to receive less money from federal reimbursements for its food service program and to support students with special needs.

At the same time, inflation is rising at its fastest pace since 1982. Prices increased by nearly 6.4% February 2021 to February 2022 – typically the Federal Reserve tries to maintain a 2% annual increase. This means that everything from insurance premiums to energy and labor will cost a bit more.

Most of the budget increase — $4.4 million out of a total of $6.6 million — would be used to pay salaries and benefits. Labor costs also make up the largest portion of the school’s budget — nearly $105 million out of just over $133 million.

The city council must vote on the budget on May 16. The budget will be delivered to Portland taxpayers on June 14.

Separately, the board unanimously approved the use of $793,992 to cover costs related to construction delays at two of the district’s elementary schools – Longfellow and Presumpscot. Student representative Jody Diou abstained in the vote.

It took longer than expected for the city to grant permits to the district for the elementary school renovations. The nearly $800,000 will largely pay for overtime costs for contractors and subcontractors so schools can be completed as close to schedule as possible.

Already, three elementary schools — Longfellow, Reiche and Presumpscot — are expected to be between four and five months behind schedule. The Presumpscot renovations were due to be completed by August, but are now expected to be completed by January 2023. Longfellow and Reiche were due to be completed by August 2023, but are now expected to be completed by December 2023.

The money will come from a $450,000 budget surplus left over from the renovation of Lyseth Elementary School and $581,049 of funds remaining from the $64.3 million bond approved by voters in 2017 to renovate. the four elementary schools. The district will end up with just under $200,000 in those pots.

The district has other unallocated funds for construction, including approximately $2.25 million for furniture, fixtures, and equipment and $1.25 million for construction contingencies.

However, the budget may be tight for the rest of the construction. The district is negotiating a nearly $1.2 million delay claim with Hardypond Construction, the company hired to renovate Reiche. The construction delays mean the district won’t be able to move forward with other projects officials had hoped to spend excess funds on, such as building more pre-K classrooms.

“It’s frustrating to have to spend money on these deferred costs,” Figdor said, “rather than doing everything we can to ensure school buildings meet student needs.”

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