The Portland Schools Board on Tuesday approved a plan to spend an additional $ 6.2 million in government funds on tax breaks, custodian costs are currently paid in federal relief dollars, and to create a debt servicing reserve fund.
The plan, which was approved with 7-0 votes, is expected to be presented to the city council on July 19 and, if approved, could lead to a tax increase of zero percent in the combined city and school budget.
“We are so happy to be in this place because the governor has finally honored the state’s obligation to meet the 55 percent requirement (for state funding) and tonight we can take that step to help the public Schools of Portland on a better financial footing for the future, “said the chair of the school board, Emily Figdor.
The additional funds add $ 17.8 million in general state aid to Portland’s $ 125.2 million school budget. It follows the approval of the Maine Legislature and Governor Janet Mills last week on a new 2-year budget of $ 8.77 billion, the first time since voters approved a poll in 2004 K-12 education will fund 55 percent nationwide.
In particular, the board-approved plan includes spending $ 1.49 million on tax breaks, which would result in a zero percent tax increase in the combined city and school budget this year; $ 1.3 million to cover the cost of security guards currently paid in US dollars to support the coronavirus, but which will eventually have to be returned to the operating budget; and $ 3.41 million to create a debt servicing relief fund.
The debt service fund would be used to offset base budget increases in the coming years caused by debt servicing on the voter-approved Buildings For Our Future bond of $ 64 million to renovate Lyseth, Longfellow, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools to be driven.
Portland residents overwhelmingly voted on June 8 to approve a school budget of $ 125.2 million for 2021-22, which includes a 5.5 percent increase in the school’s share of the tax rate. Combined with a four percent cut in the city-side tax rate, residents faced a tax increase of just under 1 percent, or about $ 54 on a $ 300,000 home last month. The plan, presented on Tuesday, would result in a zero percent tax hike, which could be welcome news for homeowners also facing possible changes to their tax bill due to a citywide reassessment.
“It’s the perfect timing,” said board member Sarah Thompson. “(The revaluations) arrived in the mail today. Some of us have minor heart attacks and hopefully others will get some relief. But I think it’s the perfect timing for our community. “
The board also discussed offers for renovations at Presumpscot Elementary School, the last of four elementary renovation projects under the Buildings For Our Future bond that were put out to tender without taking any action. Last month, the board voted to accept a $ 4.8 million under budget renovation offer from Rich. The winning Presumpscot bid, meanwhile, is about $ 4.5 million above the construction budget of $ 10.2 million.
Mark Lee, principal and chief executive officer of Harriman Associates, the project architect, said the reason the Presumpscot offerings have been overhauled so much is because the new build is a large part of the project. In particular, the costs for plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning are high, said Lee.
The district’s board of directors and advisory construction committee are considering several options for moving forward, including moving funds from elsewhere on the four-school project to cover construction costs in Presumpscot, reduce the scope of the work, and move the project to a later date Time to offer again. Several board members have expressed reservations about cuts.
“I feel that all of these things are absolutely necessary to this project,” said board member Aura Russell-Bedder in response to a list of discounts to consider. “I can’t imagine that this project would be an equivalent project in any way if we removed these. At the thought of redesigning the plan, I really feel uncomfortable with this idea. “
Lee said there could also be potential savings by talking to the contractor about construction costs.
“We don’t know what might come of this conversation, and there might be some other options that aren’t on the table,” Lee said.
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School districts plan to spend additional government funding on tax breaks and construction projects