Portland, Maine Launches Community Toolkit For School Budget

A new budget season has begun for Portland (Maine) Public Schools with the turning over of a new year. However, this year, two ways for the public to provide input on the school department’s nearly $100 million annual budget are being offered by the district.

A new “Neighbor-to-Neighbor Toolkit”, an online guide to the budget process that is meant to encourage public participation, is now available. An introductory video by Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk, who explains the many steps of the budgeting process, the time-line for budget adoption, and the department’s revenue and expenses, is included in the package.

Additionally, Caulk encourages everyone to pitch their ideas as all would be considered. Groups of Portland residents should follow the toolkit’s instructions and work together to develop suggestions on the budget as suggested by Caulk.

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

As Ben McCanna of Bangor Daily News reports, Caulk explains that the budget process begins each year in the fall with school principals and other managers submitting requests for staffing, equipment and other expenses. The district administration then reviews those requests. Administration also holds talks with the department’s four labor unions during that time, and then the superintendent presents a proposed budget to the board for review and community feedback each March. A board-approved budget goes before the City Council in April, and voters will either approve or reject the budget in a referendum in May if accepted by the city.

According to Caulk, the annual budget, which is approximately $98 million, is built from a variety of sources: 75% from local sources such as property taxes; 16% from state subsidies; 4% from food service sales; and 5% from out-of-district tuition and other sources. The largest share of budget expenses, 79%, goes toward salaries and benefits for faculty and staff. Debt repayment, facility maintenance, books, supplies, utilities and more is covered by the rest.

Caulk believes that “everyone” can contribute to the budget of the toolkit which can be considered as an emblem of the community.

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

Nothing precipitated the district’s decision to create the toolkit, according to a district spokeswoman, Shoshana Hoose. Rather, it’s part of the district’s effort to involve the community.

The budget toolkit includes four overarching goals for the district’s FY2015 budget: driving innovation, stimulating progress for all learners, investing in infrastructure and strengthening the core academic program. Additionally, it includes questions that are deemed important for the budget that include: what are considered the most important parts of the core academic program, how best to reallocate resources to meet the needs of the students given funding constraints, what infrastructure improvements are considered important and where to start if the budget is cut, among others.