Portland Schools Exceed Budget By $ 1.7 Million
Superintendent of Portland Public Schools, Mary Jo O’Connor announced that the Portland Schools have exceeded their $81.7 budget by about 2%. This is despite $500,000 in cuts made in May of 2006. O’Connor explained that the increased spending was due to factors beyond the control of Portland Schools officials.
Unavoidable Increases for Portland Schools
O’Connor stated that the deficit was “regrettable but unavoidable”. Federal and state education mandates, increased utility costs, and collective bargaining agreements were cited as causes of the huge deficit. Portland Schools has seen significant increases in energy costs and health insurance costs since the budget was first approved. Portland Schools say that all looked good with the budget until the end of May 2007, when forecasts projected the year-end deficit. What happened?
In the fall of 2006 the Portland Schools approved the hiring of over 7 new Special Education positions to fulfill state and federal mandates. Also, in November the Portland Schools Committee approved a collective bargaining contract at 3%, rather than the projected 2.5%. The figures show that Portland Schools spent an additional $625,000 meeting the Special Education requirements. That number includes transportation services and out-of-district fees. The collective bargaining increases added an extra $675,000 to the Portland Schools budget. Electricity increases, higher than expected bus maintenance, and increased health insurances costs added up to $625,000. Finally, the cost of purchasing software to comply with updated standards from the Maine Department of Education added $80,000 to the Portland Schools budget. Balanced with under spent funds the district ended up overspending about $1.7 million.
Mandates Cause Deficit for Portland Schools
The Portland Schools have been challenged to use existing funds to meet No Child Left Behind mandates along with district and state polices. When the Portland Schools committee initially voted to reduce the budget by $500,000 in April of 2006, there was expected debate over where to make the cuts. Reductions resulted the following areas: professional services $30,000; transportation and travel expenses $85,000; books and supplies $165,000; oil and natural gas conservation measures $65,000; audiovisual and computer supplies $65,000; and deferred capital equipment purchases $60,000.
Despite the publicity over the exceeded budget, the Portland Schools have seen many positive outcomes result from changes over the last few years. The Maine Initiative requiring all students to take the SATs in their junior years raised the bar for graduation requirements. And the Maine program that provides Apple laptop computers to middle school students has been widely successful. Still, the Portland Schools will face increased pressure to insure that the budget numbers are aligned for the coming school year. According to the Superintendent, “It is now our task, on behalf of our students, parents and taxpayers to balance the realities of limited financial resources with the goal of providing quality education….”