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Council approves school budget

The Portland City Council last night unanimously approved the proposed $94.24 million school budget.
Even though the council widely supported the proposed $94.24 million budget for the Portland school district, it didn't come without some cuts. The budget approved last night cut $175,000 in operating expenses and moved more than $500,000 into the city's capital budget.
The school board initially proposed a $94.94 million school budget to the City Council on April 23 and it was then remanded to the Finance Committee.
When the Finance Committee started going through the budget, the panel wound up making $701,089 in cuts and lowered the budget's bottom line to $94.24 million.
The committee cut $175,000 and took $526,089 from the operating budget to the capital budget for technology investment. The $175,000 cut can be covered by savings that came from lower than anticipated health insurance rates, according to information from the school district.
Councilor John Anton, who is the chairman of the Finance Committee, said the programmatic changes and incentives that the school board put into this year's budget aren't going to be affected by the proposed cuts. He said the committee's changes looked primarily at the financial side and resulted in adjustments in proposed usage of fund balance and moving items to the capital budget.
Mayor Michael Brennan said the city has lost $12 million in state and federal money and has been able to make up $7 million in that loss through local taxes.
"This budget allows us to basically get back to even," he said.
Brennan said the increase in the school budget allows the school district to get back to a level where it ought to be.
The council's support for the school budget didn't come without some words of caution.
"There's nothing more important than having a good public education system," he said.
Councilor David Marshall said he's concerned about the percentage increases in salaries that are included in the collective bargaining agreements. He said on the city side, those negotiations have kept increases between 1 and 2 percent but he's seeing increases of 2 to 4 percent on the school side.
Councilor Edward Suslovic said the continued increases in salary and benefits could create a burden that the taxpayers can't handle.
"Those kind of increase if we're mandated next year are going to be a tough nut to crack," he said. "Those are going to be really difficult to swallow in next year's budget."
The Portland School Board tonight will make a final decision on the proposed 2012- 2013 budget. The superintendent endorsed the changes made by the Finance Committee.
The board's meeting starts at 7 p.m. at Casco Bay High School in room 250.
The city-wide referendum on the budget is May 15.
"We look forward to the public's support on the 15th," Brennan said.

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