Committee recommends plan for Portland schools to use additional public funds


The Portland School Board Finance Committee recommends that an additional $ 6.2 million in state funding that the district expects to receive be spent on a combination of tax breaks, the cost of day care staff which is currently paid for with federal funds and to create a debt service relief fund.

The committee voted 2-0 on the recommendation, which will now be passed on to the full board. Committee member Adam Burk was absent.

The recommendation comes as the Maine legislature assesses whether to approve a supplementary budget proposal from Governor Janet Mills that includes $ 187 million in additional state funding for K-12 schools. Portland school officials at Monday’s finance committee meeting expressed concern about trying to plan the money they don’t have yet, but also said it was necessary, especially whether the district intends to use the extra money for tax relief this year.

“This recommendation does not mean that other options cannot be evaluated by the board of directors,” said Roberto Rodriguez, member of the committee. “This is exactly where we were today given the uncertainty. At this point, it is an assumption that is the basis on which the committee saw it. “

The committee’s recommendation specifically calls for $ 1.49 million to be used to offset an increase in the tax rate and create a combined increase in municipal and school tax rates of zero percent for the coming year. An additional $ 1.3 million would be used to cover the cost of on-call staff currently paid for with federal coronavirus relief funds, but this will need to be reintroduced into the operating budget after federal funding expires.

The rest of the money Portland expects to receive – around $ 3.4 million – would be used to create a debt service relief fund to help offset the base budget increases brought about by the service. of debt for the renovations of Buildings For Our Future. Voters approved a $ 64 million bond for the four-school renovation project in 2017, and construction is expected to begin this summer at three of the schools and the fourth is nearing completion.

Other options the committee discussed on Monday for spending the money included earmarking the entire $ 6.2 million for property tax relief – which would result in a 1% rate cut. tax on the schools side rather than the current 5.5% increase – or earmarking the entire $ 6.2 million for debt service relief.

Board chair Emily Figdor also suggested spending some of the money on pre-K expansion and before and after care. “In the absence of an opportunity on the pre-K, I would like to do it (the custodians and the debt service) because it puts us in a better financial position in the future than we would be otherwise,” said said Figdor. “It deals with debt service in a meaningful way. This does not leave this potential gap in our budget with custodians paying for current positions with federal money going away.

Portland voters overwhelmingly approved a $ 125.2 million school budget this month which, combined with the city budget, calls for an overall tax increase of around 1%. The budget currently includes about $ 18.7 million in state funding, which is a 4.5% decrease, or $ 880,000, largely due to the increased valuation of the city.

On Monday, the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee voted in favor of several items in the state budget amendment program, including funding kindergarten to grade 12 at 55 percent, a number of Maine voters approved by referendum in 2004, but which the state has never fully met.

“The reality is that Maine’s budget is a statement about what we value,” Senate Speaker Troy Jackson said in a statement after the votes. “With the fundraising measures adopted by the AFA committee today, we are saying loud and clear that the Maine legislature supports our hard-working public schools, students, teachers and land taxpayers. Voters in Maine have told us unequivocally that the state must do its part to take care of our schools and help local government. It is high time we kept this promise.

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