PORTLAND, Maine — Portland city councilors voted Monday to cut roughly $1 million from the proposed school budget.
In a public hearing Monday night, most spoke against the $1.1 million cut in attempt to sway city councilors.
Mayor Ethan Strimling voiced his opposition to the school budget cuts, describing “almost universal testimony in opposition” to them by members of the public who spoke Monday.
“Portland took a step backwards tonight,” Strimling said on Twitter and Facebook after the vote. “We spend the least per pupil of almost all our surrounding communities and the council passed on an opportunity to close that gap.”
But the council voted 7-2 to leave it up to the school board to determine where to make the cuts. The full council vote follows a 2-1 vote for school budget cuts by the council’s finance committee last week.
“We need to find some balance where we take into consideration our taxpayers’ needs and the needs of the school department,” City Councilor and finance committee member Nick Mavodones said after the committee vote.
Councilor Pious Ali made a motion Monday night to reduce the budget by $618,000, but that failed by the same 7-2 vote.
Parents against the cuts say it shouldn’t impact student programs or teachers.
“The PTOs have set forth some priorities about maintaining class sizes, about not closing schools,” Ben Grant of the Ocean Avenue Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization said after the finance committee vote.
Cuts could cause increase in class sizes, potentially eliminate middle school electives, and close island schools.
City councilors on Monday night only voted on the total amount voters will see on the ballot, not how that money will be spent.
School officials are also unclear on how much they will get from the state next year. Another factor that has played a role in ongoing school budget talks is the expectation that Portland may lose more than $3 million in state funding.
City councilors say losing millions of dollars in state funds has made matters tough each year, in addition to miscommunication.
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