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Voters to decide South Portland school budget on May 6

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Voters to decide South Portland school budget on May 6

SOUTH PORTLAND — A referendum on the $41.6 million school budget, approved this week by the City Council, will take place on Thursday, May 6.

In addition to voting on the school budget, residents will also be asked whether they want to continue voting on the school budget for another additional three years. 

Only one polling place will be open for voting.

The $41.6 million budget includes the district's adult education and grant programs in addition to the $39.5 million operating budget. Twenty-five positions would be eliminated, including ed techs, a high school science teacher and assistant coaches.

The school budget was approved by the council 4-1 during a special meeting Monday night.

Councilor Rosemarie DeAngelis, who has criticized school leaders for cutting teachers rather than administrators, voted against the budget. Councilors Tom Blake and Patti Smith were absent.

School Business Manager Polly Ward said the budget includes more than $130,000 in additional funding from the state. That funding was applied to a special reserve account to fund improvements to South Portland High School, reducing the local tax burden, she said.

More than $506,000 in funding from local taxpayers was originally slated for that reserve fund, accounting for a 1.5 percent tax increase.

With the additional state funds, the local burden drops nearly $376,000. It produces an 11-cent, or 1.1 percent, increase in the school's portion of the property tax rate.

Resident Peter Stocks, an organizer of the Partnership for South Portland's Schools, said the fledgling grassroots group of parents will try to drum up support for the school budget by sending e-mails to hundreds of residents and by handing out fliers.

Meanwhile, Albert DiMillo, a frequent critic of the School Department's accounting practices, said he will not campaign against the school budget as in years past, even though he believes it is about $1.7 million larger than necessary.

"I tried last year and only about 40 percent listened," DiMillo said. "I am not going to waste any more time on this."

Referendum on referendums

In addition to voting on the school budget, residents will also be asked whether they want to continue voting on the school budget for three more years.

The school budget validation referendum was instituted in 2008 when the Legislature passed a law to consolidate Maine's school districts.

If voters choose to discontinue the budget validation process, Ward said it could be reinstated in three years if residents petition the city.

City Clerk Susan Mooney said the May 6 referendum is expected to cost the city about $1,300 in staff overtime and hourly wages for four election workers.

Residents, regardless of their district, will vote at the South Portland Community Center, 21 Nelson Road, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots are available at City Hall and must be returned by May 6.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net