PORTLAND — Following a debate about whether scheduling a special citywide vote on the school budget is fiscally responsible, a divided City Council on Monday voted in favor of a May referendum.
State law requires municipalities to put school budget proposals out to voters for approval. The Portland School Department requested the city set a special election May 12.
Assistant Superintendent Jill Blackwood attended the Monday night council meeting and told councilors that the schools were requesting the May elections because it allows the department enough time to adjust the budget if needed and also to notify employees about layoffs if they have to. Blackwood said layoff notifications need to be made to teachers with at least 90 days notice.
Some councilors, however, thought it would be more prudent to schedule the vote on June 9 – the day the state has set for some bond issues to be voted on and the city has set for its Charter Commission elections.
According to City Clerk Linda Cohen, a special election costs the city about $20,000.
“(That’s) a lot of money,” Councilor Cheryl Leeman said. “The reasons are not compelling enough to keep a May special election.”
Other councilors sided with the School Department. Councilor Nick Mavodones said the council should have scheduled the Charter Commission in May if it was concerned about the cost. Although the state consistently schedules June elections, Mavodones said the city didn’t know for sure one would be scheduled when it set the Charter Commission vote for June 9.
“We chose earlier this year to hold a June election with no idea if there would be a state (election),” he said.
Councilor John Anton made a motion to set the school budget vote for June, but the council voted 5-4 in favor of the special election in May.
If voters fail to approve the school budget, another election must be set. Last year it took Cape Elizabeth voters three tries to pass a school budget.