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With school budget set, South Portland focuses on high school renovation bond

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With school budget set, South Portland focuses on high school renovation bond

SOUTH PORTLAND — Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin said the School Department will now focus on passing a bond to renovate South Portland High School after residents OK'd a $41.6 million school budget for next year.

The School Board on Monday voted unanimously to ask the City Council to place a renovation bond before voters in November.

Godin said the board will discuss the borrowing plan during a joint workshop with the City Council in late June.

The budget, approved 844-487 in a May 6 referendum, included a $506,000 allocation to a special reserve fund for the high school.

As with recent elementary school construction, the district will continue to feed that reserve account in future budgets to build capacity to begin making payments, when and if a bond is approved by voters.

"I'm very pleased," Godin said. "I think (the referendum vote) shows strong support for the budget as well as the (high school) facilities reserve. It will help ensure that funds are set aside for pending facility renovations."

Renovation plans previously accepted by the School Board would have cost about $42 million had the bond been floated in June. Business Manager Polly Ward said the district is still working on a final cost estimate for a November referendum.

In 2007, voters rejects a $56 million renovation plan by a 3-1 margin.

Meanwhile, the budget for the year beginning July 1, which eliminates 25 jobs, is expected to increase the school share of the local tax rate by 11 cents, or 1.1 percent.

Voters also voted overwhelming in support of the school budget validation process, which allows residents to have the final say on school spending. The 887-449 vote renews the budget referendum process for another three years.

While appreciative that residents voted in support of the school budget, Godin said she is disappointed that they decided to continue the validation process.

"The community strongly supports input into the budget process," she said. "I'm disappointed in that we have an elected board and City Council that, by charter, makes that decision. But it's evident the community needs input in that decision also."

Turnout for the budget vote, which cost the city about $1,300, was light. Only 1,341 of the city's 18,549 registered voters cast ballots, a 7 percent turnout.

Last year, 2,068 voters participated in the referendum, an 11 percent turnout.

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