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A group of Portland residents oppose Question 5 on the ballot this November

On Thursday, the group of Portland residents held a news conference explaining why they think Question 5 is a bad idea.

PORTLAND, Maine — On Thursday afternoon, about two dozen people expressed their concerns about Question 5 on the Portland ballot.

The question comes from a recommendation from the Portland Charter Commission to give the Portland School District more control over its budget. If passed, it would change the way school budgets are decided in Portland. 

Currently, the school board drafts a budget and then sends it to its finance committee. Then, it goes to the city council followed by the council finance committee, and the council will tell the school board if anything needs to be changed. But, if this passes the council won't have the same input.

Zack Barowtiz, who was on the Portland Charter Commission, said Question 5 is a good thing.

"It means more accountability for them," Barowtiz said.

He added that if passed, this would make school board members more responsible when it comes to spending because Portland residents will still be voting on each school budget.

"They'll know they have to present a solid, responsible budget because they're going to be accountable not just at the ballot box for when they get elected, but at the approval of the school budget," Barowtiz said.

But some people don't see it that way. At Thursday's press conference speakers said this question would give the school board too much power.

"We can't afford blank checks," Jim Hall, a former educator and Portland resident, said.

Hall and other speakers pointed out that there are more than 20 departments in the city and all need to be considered when it comes to the city's full budget.

The charter commission said this group is mistaken and the school district is not a department within the city.

"The school board derives its duties and authority directly from the Maine Legislature. We are not subordinate to the city council," Emily Figdor said in an email.

"Try to imagine what it would look like if each of them could send you their own tax bill based solely on their own pie-in-the-sky wish list," Hall added.

When Portland residents go to the polls in November they are going to have 13 questions to vote on. Eight questions are from charter commission recommendations, and five are citizen referendums. 

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