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Scarborough council weighs options for revised school budget

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Scarborough council weighs options for revised school budget

SCARBOROUGH — Several town councilors took the opportunity Wednesday to express their views on voters' rejection of the school budget, possibly foreshadowing discussion at the May 24 first reading of a new budget. 

"I didn't interpret this as a vote of validation that we should spend more," Councilor Michael Wood said.

The 987 Scarborough voters who went to the polls last week rejected the proposed $34.9 million school budget by a margin of only 10 votes.

Several councilors expressed concern that the turnout was very low. Only 6 percent of the population voted, and of those, 111 chose not to express whether they thought the budget was too high or too low.

Discussion centered around the voters who rejected the budget. Of the 493 who voted no, 340 said the budget was too high. 

"I don't believe our schools are underfunded," Councilor Jessica Holbrook said, citing figures that put other Maine schools of equal size in similar spending brackets.

Holbrook said that if the council does add money to the school budget before sending it to the voters, that she hopes the School Board would appropriate all of it to reinstate some teachers.

"I don't want to see secretaries and custodial staff. That's not what brought people out to vote. It was the teachers," she said.

Wood suggested the council should present the same budget to voters again to see if the larger turnout expected on June 8 would change the outcome.

"There are no directives to extrapolate the data," Councilor Karen D'Andrea said. "I don't think we can discount the yes votes."

Of the 483 who voted yes, 337 said the budget was too low. Added to the 153 no voters who also said the budget was too low, it appeared the budget was rejected because it was too low.

"I agree the budget was too low," D'Andrea said. "I will support putting more money back in."

The council voted unanimously to approve the warrant for the June 8 referendum, which will again ask voters if they believe the budget is too low or too high. The council will discuss the budget further and vote on the first reading at a special meeting on May 24 at 3:30 p.m.

On Monday, the School Board unanimously voted to recommend the council appropriate $100,000 from the Teacher Accrual Account and $100,000 to $200,000 from the town's undesignated fund balance to increase the budget without impacting the tax rate, which was already set to increase by 3.95 percent.

"The School Board stepped beyond their mandate," Town Manager Tom Hall said. "Where the money comes from is for the council to decide."

Superintendent of Schools David Doyle said the Teacher Accrual Account is an emergency fund to cover the teachers' five pay days that occur during the summer after the fiscal year ends and before the school year begins, in the event that the schools close down permanently.

"There's a couple of million dollars sitting there in case the budget year doesn't match the contract," Doyle said.

The council does not have to take the School Board's recommendation. At the May 24 meeting, the councilors can propose amendments to the budget, or can propose to send the same budget to voters.

There will be a public hearing and second reading of the school budget on June 2. The next validation vote will be held June 8 at Scarborough High School.

If voters continue to reject the budget, the most recent proposal from the Town Council will go into effect July 1 and remain until a budget is approved.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net