Portland Superintendent’s Notebook: The school board will be a good steward of the school budget

I urge my fellow citizens to join me in voting yes to question 5 to allow the Portland Board of Public Education to set the school budget before sending it directly to voters.

Xavier Botana is Superintendent of Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at [email protected]

The elected members of our school boards not only better understand the needs of students and schools, but they have proven themselves to be responsible financial stewards. In my seven years as superintendent of Portland Public Schools, I have seen board members consistently develop budgets that reflect what our students need to succeed while being mindful of the pressures we all face in as taxpayers.

To give just one example, when our district received $6.2 million in additional funding from the state last year, the board voted to use that money to address future budget challenges, which was very prudent fiscally. This additional funding was the result of a successful effort by Governor Janet Mills and the Legislature to increase state education aid to 55% mandated by voters for the first time in Maine history. .

In July 2021, our school board wisely set aside more than half of that funding — $3.41 million — to create a Debt Service Relief Fund. We have since been able to use this fund to offset annual budget increases caused by debt servicing for the $64 million voter-approved bond to renovate four of our elementary schools.

The council also allocated more than half of the rest of that funding to offset an increase in property taxes at a time when many city residents were struggling economically due to the pandemic. Their decision resulted in a 0% tax increase on the combined city and Portland schools budgets that year.

The state recently expanded the ability of districts to have unallocated reserves — essentially a rainy day fund. I am happy to report that we expect to be close to the maximum allowed of 9%.

In short, thanks to the prudent financial management of our school board, Portland Public Schools are in a better financial position than ever to meet new fiscal challenges, while advancing our work to deliver on the Portland Promise.

Opponents of Question 5 have made much of a recent city audit, which raised concerns about the operations of the district’s finance department, including staffing issues and job vacancies due to shortages. current workforce were key factors. To address these issues, the Board of Directors acted quickly in May to restructure our finance department to consolidate our financial operations.

I will note that when this audit – which also raised red flags about the city’s finances – was done for FY21, the city council was the authority that set the bottom line for the city’s budget. school. In light of this, the claim that the board should remain the arbiter of the school budget to avoid future auditing issues rings hollow.

Question 5 does not give a blank check to the school board. If voters don’t like the council’s budget, they will reject it. It’s a powerful check on the council proposing a budget that’s out of step with voters.

Opponents of Question 5 argue that voter turnout in June is too low to be meaningful, but even in years when other voting questions attract more voters, the school budget easily wins out. The higher the turnout, the better our school budget.

City voters have the final say on the budget, and they have shown by wide margins every year that they prioritize investing in public education. Let’s empower our fiscally responsible school board to use its educational expertise to craft the school’s budget — and then trust Portland voters to decide whether or not to pass it. Vote yes to question 5!

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