With the help of additional state funds resulting from an initial miscalculation by Maine officials, the Portland Public Schools budget proposal for fiscal year 2024 has been amended to a lower cost to the city.
The new tax rate is estimated to be $7.48, which comes out to $159 a year instead of the originally proposed $187 a year in taxes for the estimated median value of a home in Portland of $350,000.
The Portland Board of Education’s finance committee voted unanimously to support the newly revised budget and advance it to a first reading by the full school board on Tuesday, April 4, after the Phoenix went to print. The updated budget proposal addresses concerns raised so far in the budget process, including the tax rate and dependence on temporary federal funding.
The revised budget will be $143.8 million, an 8.1 percent increase on the schools’ current budget (about $10.7 million).
Due to the state’s initial miscalculation, PPS will receive an additional $3.6 million in state funding than originally considered in the budget. $1 million of that will be used to reduce the school tax levy, interim co-superintendents Aaron Townsend and Melea Nalli said Monday night. The tax levy in the originally proposed budget was seven percent, and will now be six percent.
The Maine Department of Education announced on March 28 that it revised the mill rate, the amount of money taxable in a municipality according to property value, after finding a duplicate data entry, resulting in more state funding for PPS and some other school districts in Maine. $100,000 of the additional state funds were allocated to bolster summer programming and provide additional resources for the summer school curriculum.
Co-Interim Superintendent Melea Nalli said that they had been considering a 6.5 percent tax rate based on prior requests from board members, but moved toward the six-percent figure to make the adjustment more worth it for taxpayers.
Additionally, fewer core services are being reallocated to temporary COVID-19 relief (ESSERF) funding than before — a concern that board members had voiced in previous budget discussions, foreseeing a cliff in 2025 when those funds run out. Math coaches, elementary and high school teaching positions and coordinators for the “Make it Happen,” program will remain on the local budget instead of being moved over.
An amendment vote passed three to one to add back a pre-k Dual Language Learner (DLL) teacher to the budget, with board member Julianne Opperman voting against the majority.
With the district’s increasing number of multilingual students, board member Emily Figdor proposed the amendment, adding that it would be necessary in the long run with the growing number of students coming to the district. The estimated cost of the position would be about $70,000, according to Budget Director Miranda Fasulo.
“Let’s ensure that we’re meeting our multilingual students’ needs,” Figdor said Monday night.
Following the first reading Tuesday night, the city and board of education’s finance committees will review the budget again on Thursday, April 6, following the first meeting of the joint committees last week.