Following early budget conversations, Portland Public Schools expect they could need as much as $15 million added to the budget for Fiscal Year 2024, due to rollover costs and the loss of over $2 million in state funding.
The district’s anticipated figure before additional budget needs would put the FY’24 budget roughly $10 million over this year’s $133.1 million. Estimated increases are a result of the lost state funding, attributed to decreased enrollment and Portland’s increasing real estate property values, and about $8 million in rollover. Budget season is tentatively set to begin on March 6, when the district will hold a public forum on the school budget.
Based on those figures, officials said they expect the tax-rate increase to be somewhere around 9.3 percent, which would be more than double the tax rate increase from last-year (4.1 percent).
“Every penny is going to count this year,” said Julianne Opperman, Vice Chair of the School Board’s Finance Committee. Officials are expecting necessary increased costs on special education and multilingual student programs, mostly centered on bolstering staff to support those students.
The district estimates that necessary budget additions will be about $5 million on top of that, which includes out of district placement and transportation for special education students, multilingual family supports like family specialists and social workers and other operational costs, including outsourcing payroll and human resources staffing.
Necessary additions bring the overall expected budget increase above $15 million, and would mean a tax-rate increase of up to 14.2 percent — a significant increase compared to any recent years. The Portland Public School district shared the expected budget figures for the first time Monday night at the Board of Education’s Finance Committee meeting.
The figures are not set in stone for the district’s proposed budget, which is still early in the drafting process. Co-Interim Superintendent Melea Nalli said the district plans to work alongside other administrators and be more transparent with staff about the upcoming budget season ahead of the public forum on March 6.
The superintendent presents the recommended budget on March 14 with additional school board discussions to follow before the first joint meeting between the school board and the city’s finance committee on March 28. After that meeting, the school finance committee will vote on recommending the proposed budget to the whole board.
Opperman highlighted student-centered positions as one of her priorities for this year’s budget at the finance meeting on Feb. 13.
“What’s important is what goes on in the classroom — any individuals that can help students meet their needs, whether it’s emotional [or] academic,” she said. “Our job doesn’t work if we plan, plan, plan and nothing happens in the classroom.”
One concern that remains, however, is filling those positions. Finance committee Chair Sarah Brydon raised the question of whether the district is expecting that hiring new staff will be as much of a challenge in the upcoming school year as it was in the past one. More educators are leaving their positions in Maine in recent years, which has exacerbated the state’s long-term educator shortage.
“Does it make sense to budget for a bunch of roles that may go unfilled?” Brydon said.
Hiring remains “a question mark,” Nalia said, adding that PPS is still looking for staff.
The upcoming budget season comes after the citizens’ referendum Question 5 was voted down in November. The vote would have granted the School Board autonomy over the budget process, removing the need for approval from the city council.
As it stands, the city council oversees the board’s budget proposal and has the responsibility of approving it and sending it to the voters, or suggesting changes and sending it back to the school board for further adjustments.
After Question 5 failed, school and city officials said they still were open to tweaking the school budget process within the realm of the city charter in order to improve collaboration between the school district and the city of Portland.
School Board Chair Sarah Lentz said no official adjustments have been made to the process yet, but she said they hope to maintain what has been “incredibly collaborative so far.”