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SAD 51 sends failed budget back to Cumberland, North Yarmouth voters

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SAD 51 sends failed budget back to Cumberland, North Yarmouth voters

CUMBERLAND — Voters will get a second chance to vote on a $28 million school budget after School Administrative District 51 directors voted Monday to resubmit the spending plan in a second validation referendum on June 16.

The budget failed in an improbable tie vote in Cumberland and North Yarmouth on May 26. Turnout at the election was about 10 percent in each community, a fact that many citizens Monday blamed for the result.

North Yarmouth, which faces a tax increase of 8.2 percent due to the school budget, voted it down by 45 votes. At Monday's meeting, most of the North Yarmouth citizens who addressed the School Board and an audience of more than 100 people asked directors to reduce the budget before sending it back to voters. Many were concerned about their declining ability to pay taxes, and cited Board of Selectmen Chairman Paul Napolitano's report at the meeting that 10 percent of the town's taxpayers are late on their April 10 payment.

Cumberland, which faces a tax increase of 3.4 percent because of the school budget, approved it by 45 votes the first time. Many Cumberland residents Monday requested that the budget remain as originally proposed – with no change from this year – and some asked that it be slightly increased to restore several positions that were cut late in the budget process.

In a 5-2 vote, board member Dan Panici of North Yarmouth maintained his opposition, saying the cuts were made too quickly and the budget should increase 1.9 percent. The second opposition vote came from Cumberland's Tom Shepard, who has previously supported a flat budget.

Shepard said he hopes residents of both communities realize that taxpayers do not have to be the district's only source of funding.

During the economic crisis in the late 1960s and early '70s, Shepard said, parents and booster organizations stepped up to save and even expand athletic programs in the face of institutional cuts. "There is another way to vote no and still accomplish funding," he said.

"If you vote no because you think (the budget) is too low," he said, "write a check. If you votes yes because it's too low, write a check.

"You're getting money back because somebody else voted no, too," he said, hoping that if residents are truly supportive of replacing controversial cuts – such as the deans of students at the middle and high schools – they'll find ways to replace the funding lost by other taxpayers' declining ability to pay.

Board member Jim Bailinson agreed, suggesting that the pay-to-play model adopted this budget cycle for athletics be extended to other extracurricular activities, shifting a small burden to service users rather than all taxpayers.

Most School Board members voiced their hope that the budget is approved June 16 so they can begin work on next year's budget, which is expected to be even more difficult due to state predictions of allocation cuts near $800,000.

School Board Chairman David Perkins said residents have "short memories," since last year, with the return of Chebeague funds that would have been shared with Falmouth if the districts had consolidated, North Yarmouth taxpayers saw a $300,000 decrease in their school tax bill and Cumberland saw a reduction of $500,000.

"Last year's dip didn't hear a whole lot of applause," Perkins said, "but when (residents) see it go up this year, they're startled and upset."

Perkins also defended some of the more controversial cuts, saying that the deans of students jobs were up for review this year due to changing contractual arrangements, and that the positions would likely have changed next year, anyway. Adding the deans several years ago was "an experiment," he said, and one the district could no longer afford. Removing the middle school dean, he said, is also directly related to increasing staff in the sixth grade, a measure advocated by many parents late in the budget process.

Perkins also said the board would not consider cutting the International Baccalaureate program that was recently added to the high school's curriculum. The program costs $39,000 a year, he said, and with $76,000 already invested in teacher training, students already enrolled in the program's inaugural year, and book and materials costs of about $12,000 that would have been spent anyway, it hardly seemed an option to ditch a program the board "highly values."

Cumberland and North Yarmouth residents will have the opportunity June 10 to voice their opinions in a public vote at 7 p.m. in the high school gym. That vote will set the formal number that will go to the polls June 16.

Cumberland polls on June 16 will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Town Hall; North Yarmouth polls will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Wescustogo Hall. If the budget does not pass, the School Board must again review the proposal and conduct a third validation election.

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or strent@theforecaster.net.