Following concerns that the fiscal year 2023 budget would be negatively impacted by inflation, the Portland School Board approved a $133.1 million budget on April 5, opting to not go forward with last-minute proposed amendments.
The budget includes an additional $500,000 in funding for additional social workers and to provide support to English Language Learners in Portland Public Schools.
The spending plan is up approximately $6.6 million from the current budget and would add 28 cents to the School Department’s portion of the tax rate, for a total rate of $7.05 per $1,000 of valuation. For the owners of a home with the Portland median value of $365,000, that would be just over an additional $102 a year.
At the meeting on April 5, board member Yusuf Yusuf proposed an amendment to add staff to the “Make it Happen!” program, a college readiness program geared toward English language learning students.
Despite support for the program from several board members, only Yusuf and Nyalat Biliew, a former participant in the program as a student at Deering High School, voted in favor of the amendment.
Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana expressed his appreciation for the thought behind the proposal, but also his concern with making last-minute amendments to the budget.
“This is not how ‘Make it Happen!’ became a Magna Award-winning program,” Botana said. “To do this at the eleventh hour is really problematic for us.”
School Board Chair Emily Figdor added that Yusuf did make known his intention to add “Make it Happen!” positions earlier on in the budget process. “Mr. Yusuf has been clear about his desire to see more staffing for this program,” she said.
Grace Valenzuela, director of the School Department’s Multilingual and Multicultural Center, said what is needed most in the program is additional support for the transition between middle school and high school.
After school vacation, PPS will be starting a “Make it Happen!” pilot program with 20 students at King Middle School, Valenzuela said, to build a structure for that system and lay the groundwork to better identify their needs.
Figdor, who shared concerns in the early stages of the budget process about how inflation may impact the district’s progress, said she was much happier with it at the end of the process.
“I’m proud to support this budget tonight,” she said. “It continues our equity work while also recognizing the economic reality that we’re facing right now with inflation at historic levels.”
The board will present the recommended budget to the City Council on April 11. The council must approve and send the budget to voters for a June 14 referendum.
Voters on June 14 will also elect three new School Board members: two for at-large seats with six-month terms and one for a two-year term representing District 5.
Twelve candidates qualified for the ballot: Sarah Lentz, Richard Ward, Benjamin Grant, Stephanie Albert, Stacey Hang, Kimberly Mancini, and Amber Schertz for the at-large seats, and Sarah Brydon, Barbara Goglin, Joshua Haefele, Lou Viola, and Elizabeth Capone-Newton in District 5.