Big tax hike in Scarborough school budget opener

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SCARBOROUGH — School Superintendent George Entwistle III planted double-digit spending and tax increases with his school budget presentation Wednesday night.

But he acknowledged his requests may not take root.

“The purpose is to put the first stake in the ground,” Entwistle said. “We know it will move.”

He proposed a $41.37 million budget that increases school spending by 10.6 percent and asks property taxpayers to pay an additional 16.2 percent.

Facing a projected state revenue decline of about $1.2 million – a $392,000 subsidy curtailment and an estimated $951,000 reduction in fiscal year 2014 Maine Department of Education general purpose aid – Entwistle made a stand Wednesday night to fund current programs and restore past cuts and deferrals based on the input he said he has received from the community.

“This is the beginning of very important conversations we will need to have and need to host,” he said.

Beyond subsidy reductions, the School Department might confront a new requirement to pay as much as $517,000 in retirement contributions previously covered by the state. Those contributions are required as a part of the biennial state budget submitted in January by Gov. Paul LePage. Deliberations on the state budget continue, and Entwistle warned that state budget revisions will have local impact.

Beyond a projected $2.5 million increase in salaries, wages and benefits, Entwistle proposed spending $307,000 for three new buses, up from the current budgeted $30,000, as part of a $684,000 increase in what he called “reconciliations” and defined as prior obligations that require more commitment or future planning.

Those reconciliations will face greater scrutiny and revision by the School Board Finance Committee, starting with a workshop on Thursday, March 21, at 5:30 p.m. The board will also host an all-day workshop beginning at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, March 30.

While details were not outlined in his presentation, Entwistle is also seeking $567,000 in program restorations, with $135,000 allocated to special services.

In advocating his proposed budget, Entwistle provided data showing Scarborough school spending for instruction, administration, transportation and per-pupil is near or at the bottom of the list when compared to 12 other communities, including Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Windham and Yarmouth.

The 16 percent property-tax increase would boost the school share of the municipal budget from the current $8.85 to $10.27. Scarborough property owners now pay $13.80 per $1,000 of assessed value to fund municipal, school, debt service and the town share of Cumberland County operations. Town Manager Tom Hall will present his municipal budget to councilors on Wednesday, March 20.

The school budget will be presented to the Town Council for a first reading April 3. A council second reading and vote will be held May 1.

The council can reject the total spending amount, but has no control over line items. The town-wide referendum on the budget will be held May 14.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.