2012-05-11 / Front Page

S. Portland school budget accepted

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

In a four-hour meeting on Monday that also included lengthy discussion as to where to locate the South Portland farmers market, the South Portland City Council approved a $31.85 million school budget. Just over $28.75 million would be financed by taxpayers.

The spending plan includes: $15.75 million for regular classroom instruction; $8.07 million for special education; $300,647 for career and technical education; $738,978 for other instruction; $3.43 million for student and staff support; $1.19 million for system administration; $2.19 million for school administration; $1.4 million for transportation and busing; $3.81 million for facilities maintenance; $2.70 million for debt service and other commitments and $377,495 for other expenditures. The board also voted to appropriate $20,000 for adult education and $370,000 to support the food service program.

The decision, which Councilors Alan Livingston and Jerry Jalbert opposed, ends a lengthy review of educational spending by the city council and board of education.

“We have used endless words in discussions over the weeks and months. Tonight is the culmination of a very long process,” said Councilor Tom Coward at the May 7 meeting. “Every member on the school board has participated. Every member on the council has participated. We’ve had input from the school finance director, the city finance director and we have had public input.”

Coward said he felt the budget represents “good quality education in a major municipality in Maine in the 21st century.”

Councilor Tom Blake agreed with Coward, saying that education is one of the four pillars of the community, along with transportation, food/drink/shelter, and public safety.

“You take one of these away and you see the community crumble,” Blake said.

Livingston, who served briefly on the board of education before being elected to the council in November 2010, said while he appreciates the effort, he doesn’t feel the board of education did enough to reduce the school budget after the council told them to pare it down further last month.

“I think the time for liberal spending is over. I don’t think we can keep putting this on the backs of our citizens,” he said.

Maxine Beecher, a fellow councilor, said she too wanted to see a further reduction, but was willing to support the final proposal from the board of education.

“We did ask you to go back and cut it. It would have been nice to cut it further, but I do appreciate you did it and you didn’t simply say, ‘You deal with your budget and we’ll deal with ours.’”

Now that the school budget has the blessing of both the council and board of education, it will go before city voters to approve or deny. The school validation vote, a state requirement, is scheduled for May 15 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at South Portland Community Center on Nelson Road. Like the budget vote, that decision didn’t come without some debate.

Albert DiMillo, a vocal critic of the school district’s spending, said it made more sense to wait until the June primary to hold the school referendum vote. Doing so, he said would mean a greater turnout at the polls and it would give an opportunity to know what the school spending surplus will be at the end of this fiscal year.

“Waiting another month gives us an opportunity to get the facts,” he said.

Livingston said he agreed with DiMillo that it made more sense to hold the referendum when voter turnout is likely to be the highest.

Suzanne Godin, superintendent of South Portland schools, said officials do not have that luxury of putting off the school budget vote. She said if the vote was pushed back to coincide with the June 12 primary and the school budget was not approved by voters, it wouldn’t give the board of education and council much opportunity to reconsider the budget before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Godin said if voters did not pass the budget by the beginning of fiscal year 2013 on July 1, the last budget that was approved would be in effect until the new budget met voter approval.

Coward said he would prefer not taking any chances and to hold the validation vote in May like the city has done the past few years.

“It would be a major scramble in June if we found out we had to review the budget all over again,” he said.

“It’s all about risk tolerance and having the time to respond, if needed,” said Mayor Patricia Smith.

Blake said aligning the school vote with future primaries may make the most sense, but it was not something he could support this year.

“I think it is something we need to look at moving forward, but we are in too deep right now,” he said.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282-4337,

Return to top