Back to the drawing board for Scarborough school budget

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SCARBOROUGH — Officials are considering their next move after the proposed fiscal year 2018 school budget failed Tuesday with 57 percent of voters opposed.

The $47 million budget was defeated 2,408 to 1,822. The result was not unprecedented; in 2015, voters rejected the budget twice.  It took two attempts in 2012, and three referendums in 2013.

A $700,000 bond referendum to replace the town fuel station, however, was approved by 72 percent of voters.

School Board members said they must decide whether to try again with a similar budget, or go back to voters with a different proposal in several weeks. 

Town Council Chairman Shawn Babine on Thursday said the new vote could take place as early as July 11, but likely won’t be until August. The new fiscal year starts July 1.

Donna Beeley, a school board member, said school officials were “stunned” that voters turned down the budget.

She said board members are frustrated and discouraged, but will have to go back to the drawing board.

“I’m hopeful we will figure it out. We will have to,” Beeley, a former elementary school principal and teacher, said. “We will have to figure out a more acceptable amount.”

Babine said the School Board is not going to have a knee-jerk reaction and will make no decisions within the next week. But he is hoping for a joint meeting with the board the week of June 26. 

Babine said he will rely heavily on the School Board for a new recommendation, and is also optimistic the schools may receive preliminary information as soon as June 21 or 22 about the possibility of additional state funding.

He said Scarborough could receive upwards of $3 million in state aid, which will change the dynamics of the school budget. 

Residents were divided about the budget as they left the polls late Tuesday afternoon.

Paul Allard, who voted against the measure, said school expenditures have been increasing in spite of a decline in the student population. Allard said he is concerned about residents’ ability to keep up with property taxes, especially older residents who are on fixed incomes.

“We need to think about those people and not force them out of town,” Allard said.

Laurie Nelson said she voted yes “because I think it is the right thing to do for our kids.”

“It helps the whole town when our school system is great. It helps property values stay high. It is worth the small amount of property tax,” Nelson said. “If we don’t have good schools, people aren’t going to want to move to our town.”

Kathy Mower said she voted no because the increase is “way too high. They need to cut the budget, instead of asking for more money.”

Jean Young, a fifth-grade teacher at Wentworth School, supported the proposal and said she’s seen teachers’ supply budgets decrease over the 18 years she has been teaching. Young said she spends several hundred dollars a year out of pocket for supplies.

“We need to invest in our children’s’ future,” she said. “Even if you don’t have children in the schools, you are being served by those children who are being educated by our schools.”

The school budget for fiscal 2018 called for an increase of almost 7.4 percent in school funding, or $2.9 million, over the current $39.8 million budget. School revenues were down by 17.4 percent, primarily due to an expected $1.4 million loss in state subsidy. Expenditures were up 3.38 percent, driven by contractual obligations, including a new, three-year teacher contract.

The overall projected tax increase that residents could have expected, including municipal and county taxes, was 3.49 percent.

The Town Council approved the school budget during its May 17 meeting, when it was also decided that if the School Department receives more than expected from the state, the difference would be divided equally between property tax relief and the department’s fund balance.

Fuel station bond

Voters approved replacement of the town fueling station, 2,971 to 1,160.

The ballot question authorized the town to issue almost $700,000 in bonds to replace the fuel station and move it to another area of the public works facility at 20 Washington Ave.

The special referendum was the result of a Maine Department of Environmental Protection order requiring the town to replace the station, built in 1988, and remove the underground storage tanks by 2018.

Voter turnout Tuesday was 25 percent, which Town Clerk Tody Justice said was more than expected, but on par with previous years. 

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

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