Portland school budget proposes spending hike of ten times the state funding increase

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana (right) is proposing a $7.2 million school spending increase in Portland, Maine.

AUGUSTA – Political pundits and budget experts who say Governor Janet Mills’ proposed budget will not result in lower property taxes are being handed a prime piece of evidence to support their position with the introduction of the new Portland Public Schools budget.

Under Mills’ budget proposal, Portland would receive an increase of $700,000 in funding from the state for local schools, but Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana is proposing a spending increase of $7.2 million above the district’s previous budget.

Increasing school funding to ‘reduce’ property taxes was a core tenet and promise of Mills’ 2018 campaign for Governor as well as many other Democrats, but, as typically happens during local school budget presentations and debates, the message from Botana was that he was grateful for the increase, but it was not enough.

Under Botana’s proposed budget, Portland homeowners would see a tax increase on that portion of their bill of 5.4%.

A study from Maine Heritage Policy Center in 2015 showed that similarly, increases in Maine’s revenue sharing to cities and towns have not historically resulted in property tax cuts, although many candidates and politicians, mostly Democrats, often say they will.

The budget put forward by Superintendent Botana includes a recommended $8.8 million in total debt service for fiscal year 2020, up from just under $6.6 million spent on debt service in fiscal year 2018.

Only about 38.4% of the overall proposed budget would go to ‘regular instruction’ a term used to describe traditional teachers. That spending would increase by 4.5% over fiscal year 2019.

Spending on system administration, however, would increase by about 6.6%, along with student and staff support. School administration cost would increase by 4%.

Governor Mills’ budget proposal is also subject to change, and is unlikely to be passed until closer to the statutory deadline for passage.

The Finance Committee of the Portland School Board will meet tonight at 6pm for their first review of the budget. That meeting will be held at 353 Cumberland Ave. Room 234.

There will be a public hearing for the proposed school budget on March 26th at 6pm in the same location.

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