Comment: Portland’s Question 5 will make our schools better

When systems don’t work, we need to fix them.

Right now, the system for passing the school budget is fundamentally flawed. And it hurts our students, our schools and, ultimately, our city.

Imagine running something big and complex (and maybe you do): a business, organization, family, team or club. You are responsible for every aspect of it, with a defect. Someone else—someone not involved in your business, organization, family, team, or club—determines what your budget will be each year.

That no one knows in depth what you are up against or what will make your efforts successful. It is not their expertise and they have no other role. They can simply assign a dollar value to your work.

This is the situation with the City Council and Portland Public Schools.

People sometimes refer to the school board as the “school committee” or the “school department,” but both are incorrect. The City Council has no authority over public education in our city. This is the job of the school board, which derives its authority from the state.

The school board is not an arm of city government, nor does it report to the City Council. The school board is solely responsible for the smooth running of our schools.

But the council makes the most important public education decision in our city every year: setting the school budget.

It’s a holdover from an old way of thinking: that city councilors (mostly white men) were the only people who could weigh in on budget decisions. And that voters could not be trusted when it came to money decisions. It served to concentrate power in the people already in power and to maintain the status quo.

The result has contributed to the situation in our schools now: There are very significant gaps between economically disadvantaged students (who are primarily students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities) and more advantaged students (who tend to be white).

This year, the City Council’s finance committee voted to cut $1 million from the school budget. The school board considered how to make those cuts, but, in a highly unusual move, declined — because it had presented the City Council with a very tight budget amid record inflation and couldn’t cut $1 million and stay on track to meet the district’s equity goals. The council eventually backed down and approved the school budget, but we can’t count on that happening again.

Question 5 fixes this broken system. It empowers the elected school board to submit its proposed budget directly to the voters – which is done in 94% of Maine communities and across the country. Right now, Portland is an outlier.

Voters always have the final say on the school budget (not so with the city budget). This is a powerful and immediate “check” on the school board if it proposes a budget that is not in line with what the voters want.

Question 5 also addresses other problems: Currently, layers of bureaucracy make it difficult to listen to the public in the school budget process. As the school budget boomerangs between the school board and City Council, voters don’t know who to hold accountable for the bottom line. And the status quo is a highly inefficient use of scarce resources that distracts school officials from running schools, as they collectively spend hundreds of hours each year rushing the City Council to be able to make a budget decision. school. .

The bottom line is that Question 5 is good for our school children and good for our democracy. And it has broad support: The school board unanimously approved it last year; The Charter Commission approved it by a supermajority; several city councilors are vocal advocates for the change and it is widely supported in the community.

Let’s fix what’s broken. Our children, our schools and our city deserve no less. Please join us in voting yes on question 5.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you have submitted your account email, we will send you an email with a reset code.

” Previous

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button