PORTLAND, Maine — Voters in Portland can head to the polls on Tuesday, June 8 to cast their ballots for the special municipal election to determine charter commissioners and whether to approve the proposed school budget.
All 11 of the city's normal polling locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. You must vote at your assigned polling place, which you can find on the city's website. Same-day voter registration is allowed with proof of residency, and there will be some COVID-19 precautions in place, similar to those during the November election. Booths will be spread out, there will be frequent sanitizing, and election workers will be wearing masks. Voters are encouraged to wear masks, but they are not required to do so.
If you're voting absentee, your ballot must be returned by 8 p.m. to the city clerk's office in the Merrill Auditorium Lobby or to the 24/7 official ballot drop box outside of City Hall on Myrtle Street. You cannot submit your absentee ballot to your polling place.
In the July 14, 2020 election, Portland voters approved the charter commission to open up a review of the city charter. In August, the city council approved the appointment of three members to the charter and determined nine others will be elected by voters this week with Ranked Choice Voting. After that, the reviewing work will begin.
The other item on Tuesday's ballot is the school budget referendum. In mid-April, the Portland Board of Public Education approved the $125.2 million school budget proposal for the 2021-2022 school year with three themes -- Advancing Equity, Integrating innovation from COVID, and Rebuilding academic and social-emotional foundations post COVID.
This budget is up 4.4 percent (or about $5.3 million) from this year's budget of $119.9 million. About $2.4 million of that extra funding would be used to maintain current programs and services and cover increased costs of salaries and benefits. The other $2.9 million would be used to advance equity by addressing achievement and opportunity gaps for students who are learning English, those with disabilities, or those struggling financially, etc.
This budget proposal is about $660,000 less than the $125.8 million budget proposed by Superintendent Xavier Botana in March. Portland public schools says that decrease is because health insurance costs for employees are less than expected -- and schools have received more state funding for career and technical education than originally anticipated.
On May 10, the Portland City Council voted seven to two to approve the budget proposal, turning down an amendment to reduce the amount in an effort to alleviate some financial impact on taxpayers. The proposed budget would raise the school portion of the tax rate by about 5.5 percent -- but the overall tax rate would only increase by about one percent since the City Council unanimously passed a four percent reduction on the municipal tax rate on Monday. There was also no tax increase last year because of the pandemic.
The district has received tens of millions of dollars in federal COVID-10 support, but the Portland Public Schools System says that is being used to meet other needs, like hiring new one-year staff members, making improvements to facilities, and investing in new technology.
"We are the most diverse school district in the state, and with that comes the most diverse challenges," said Portland city councilor Pious Ali, who voted in favor of the budget. "If we are willing to continue to be a welcoming city and a place for everyone who lives here to feel like they belong, I think we need to put our money where our mouth is."
"There are so many people either on unemployment, or people who are already on fixed incomes who are having a hard time paying taxes, paying for their medical bills -- things of that nature -- putting fuel in their tank, so I just think it's a tough year to ask for a tax increase," countered Portland city councilor Nick Mavodones, who voted against the budget.