Portland schools’ finance panel approves budget that reduces staff cuts, maintains tax increase – Press Herald

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The proposed spending plan cuts fewer positions but maintains the 6.85% tax increase under Superintendent Ryan Scallon’s $161 million proposal through cost savings and by tapping into reserves.
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The Portland school board’s finance committee voted 3-1 Monday night to pass a $162.3 million budget for the 2024-25 school year that would cut fewer positions than the budget originally proposed by the superintendent.
The latest iteration of the budget is $1.3 million more than the spending plan Superintendent Ryan Scallon presented to the school board on March 5 and would decrease the number of positions eliminated from around 30 to about 12. It would maintain the same 6.85% tax increase on the schools’ portion of the city tax bill as under Scallon’s proposal thanks to some areas having lower costs than initially anticipated and the use of an additional $313,000 from reserves for a total of $3.8 million.
Julianne Opperman voted against the proposed budget, saying she was not comfortable with the district using the additional $313,000 from reserves. 
Some of the positions initially set to be cut that would be retained in the budget passed Monday include five education technician positions and multiple roles aimed at supporting high-needs students, career readiness and curriculum creation.
The budget has garnered significant attention from members of the public, including at Monday’s meeting, since the district began discussing it early this year. Dozens of Portland parents and educators have spoken up at school board meetings, most asking the district to retain programs and positions set to be cut or scaled back or to otherwise increase resources for the district. 
City Council members also have hinted about their views on the budget. At a joint city and schools finance committee meeting last week, council members – including April Fournier, Anna Bullet, Roberto Rodriguez and Mayor Mark Dion – said they were worried about the district maintaining services with fewer staff and resources. Councilor Regina Phillips and Dion said they were worried about putting too much pressure on taxpayers. 

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The passage of the budget Monday night came after more than four hours of discussion in which all four members of the finance committee made proposals to change the budget. The proposals included one from board members Sarah Brydon and Fatuma Noor to restore 15 positions, one from Opperman to restore some of the eliminated positions to the budget and cut some of those presently included, and three from Emily Figdor to add back in 12 positions and the high school’s extended learning opportunities program and create two new positions.  
The committee ultimately voted down Figdor’s proposal and passed a combination of the proposal put forward by Brydon and Noor and that put forward by Opperman.
Monday night’s meeting came in the middle of a challenging budget season for Portland Public Schools. District leaders have said creating a budget that provides schools with the resources they need and doesn’t put too much pressure on taxpayers has been particularly difficult this year due to a significant loss of federal COVID-19 funding, inflation and flat state funding. 
Finance committee members said that this proposal strikes an appropriate balance, cutting some positions to avoid further tax increases while maintaining positions crucial to the district’s short- and long-term visions to equitably educate students in the state’s largest city. 
MORE VOTES TO COME
But the finance committee doesn’t have the last say. The full board, City Council and Portland voters all will vote the budget up or down in the months to come. 
The full school board is scheduled to hear and discuss the updated budget on Tuesday evening. The district’s finance committee will then discuss the changes with the city’s finance committee on Thursday. Then it goes back to the school board for a vote on April 9. 
Portland’s overall property tax rate is the average of the municipal and school tax rates. The city and school board set their budgets and resulting tax rates, both of which must be approved by the City Council. The school budget also is sent to voters for approval.
This budget year, property owners got a 5.9% tax increase, the average of the city’s 6.1% tax increase and the school district’s 5.7% tax increase.
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