Decline in state aid expected to test Portland’s next school budget

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Despite an expected reduction in state aid, officials said, Portland Public Schools hopes to keep its focus on learning and teaching in next year’s budget. 

The School Department is gearing up for the four-month budget process, with an official presentation coming March 15. Ahead of the presentation to the School Board, a public forum was held Monday to provide an outline of what can be expected for fiscal year 2023.

Portland Public Schools logoSuperintendent of Schools Xavier Botana led the forum attended by 27 people. He said the intent of the budget will be to maintain execution of the department’s Portland Promise, make schools equitable for all students, and ensure there’s no backsliding on investments made in recent years, particularly with staffing.

The most needed investments, Botana said, will be in pre-kindergarten, English Language Learner, and special education programs.

Additional support for those programs will not only require additional staff, the school chief said, but more flexibility for students within those programs, including potential before- and after-school care for pre-K (starting in fall 2023), additional family and community language support, and more specialized programs for special education students.

One of the hurdles PPS faces in the upcoming budget comes from a more than 10 percent cut in state funding, largely due to an enrollment decline of 1.7 percent, or 115 students, in the last year. The School Board discussed enrollment declines due to the pandemic and potential threats to funding last December.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the budget April 5. On May 16, the City Council votes on the spending plan, and it must be approved in a voter referendum on June 14.

Going forward, Botana said he remains hopeful a corner has been turned on COVID-19 so that PPS can go back to putting all of its energy into responding to the needs of students.

“These past few years have been incredibly challenging for all of us, our students, and our staff,” he said. “For us to be able to focus on doing those things we’ve set out to do, and do them well, has to be our first and foremost priority.”