Portland voters approve school budget, reserve the right to deny next year’s

Portland voters on Tuesday delivered some good news and some bad news to Mayor Michael Brennan, who on Monday joined Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk to urge passage of a $96.36 million school budget and denial of a question that would keep in place the annual public referendum on the subject.

Emmanuel Caulk, superintendent of Portland Public Schools (BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett)

By similar margins, residents who turned out at the polls did indeed approve the budget — details of which you can read about here and here — but they also voted “yes” on the follow-up question, meaning the yearly school budget will continue to be brought to voters for public passage.

On the budget referendum, 1,395 Portland residents approved the fiscal year 2014 school spending plan, while 971 voted against it — that breaks down to about 59 percent in favor and 41 percent against.

On the question of whether to maintain the annual referendum system, mandated statewide during former Gov. John Baldacci’s 2007 school consolidation plan, 1,319 voters said “yes” and 1,032 said “no.”  That’s a 56 percent-44 percent breakdown.

As a result, next year at this time, voters will be called back to the polls to consider whether to approve the Portland Public Schools’ fiscal year 2015 budget. The public referendum cycles under this system go in three years, so city residents will next get a chance to throw out the extra step — if they choose to do so — in 2016.

Brennan’s argument against the school budget referendum is that the one- or two-question ballot typically attracts a low turnout and costs the city between $13,000 and $15,000 per vote event, and, he argued, the previous time-worn system of allowing the city council to approve or deny the school budget (as the council does with every other city department budget) was working just fine.

A majority of the voters disagreed.

After the vote results came in last night, Caulk issued this statement, primarily focused on the approval of the expenditure figures:

Thank you to the voters of Portland for showing their support for the Portland Public Schools by approving our proposed budget for the 2013-2014 school year.

This has been a very challenging budget to craft. We deeply regret the number of layoffs that will occur and the resulting loss of many talented teachers and staff. At the same time, we recognized the need to keep property taxes affordable for Portland residents.

The budget passed tonight allows us to maintain core programs and to continue down a path towards improving Portland schools. Our district staff, parents and community share the goal of creating learning opportunities for all students. Together, we will make a great
school system.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.