Portland schools launch new ‘toolkit’ to let public help fix budget

Posted Jan. 03, 2014, at 5:11 p.m.
Portland School Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk
Portland School Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk Buy Photo

PORTLAND, Maine — With the turning of a new year, a new budget season begins for Portland Public Schools.

This year, however, the district is offering two ways for the public to provide input on the school department’s nearly $100 million annual budget.

Superintendent of Schools Emmanuel Caulk will host a Town Hall-style meeting to discuss the budget for the 2014-15 school year at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 30, at King Middle School.

Available now is a new “ Neighbor-to-Neighbor Toolkit” — an online guide to the budget process that is meant to encourage public participation.

Included in the package is an introductory video by Caulk, who explains the many steps of the budgeting process, the time-line for budget adoption, and the department’s revenue and expenses.

Caulk suggests groups of Portland residents follow the toolkit’s instructions and work together to develop suggestions on the budget. Afterward, groups can submit suggestions by emailing superintendent@portlandschools.org.

“I promise to read and consider all of your ideas,” Caulk says in the four-minute video.

The budget process begins each year in the fall, with school principals and other managers submitting requests for staffing, equipment and other expenses, Caulk explains. Those requests are then reviewed by the district administration. During that time, the administration also holds talks with the department’s four labor unions.

Each March, the superintendent presents a proposed budget to the board for review and community feedback.

In April, a board-approved budget goes before the City Council. If accepted by the city, voters will either approve or reject the budget in a referendum in May.

The annual budget, which is approximately $98 million, is built from a variety of sources: 75 percent from local sources, such as property taxes; 16 percent from state subsidies; 4 percent from food service sales; and 5 percent from out-of-district tuition and other sources, Caulk said.

The largest share of budget expenses, 79 percent, goes toward salaries and benefits for faculty and staff. The rest covers debt repayment, facility maintenance, books, supplies, utilities and more.

“I encourage everyone to participate in creating a budget that reflects our community’s values and priorities for public education,” Caulk said.

District spokeswoman Shoshana Hoose said nothing precipitated the district’s decision to create the toolkit. Rather, it’s part of the district’s effort to involve the community.

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