Last-minute cuts trim $587K from Scarborough schools

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SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council on Wednesday approved school and municipal budgets for fiscal year 2015 that will increase the town property tax rate by 3.5 percent, but not before cutting more than half a million dollars from the School Department’s proposed spending plan. 

The School Board reluctantly accepted the cuts in an emergency meeting Thursday morning.

The school budget now goes to a voter referendum on Tuesday, May 13.

The $587,000 reduction, which follows the nearly $1 million already cut by the School Board on May 1, brings the school budget to $42.3 million.

The council amendment to reduce the school budget passed 4-2, with Councilors Ed Blaise and James Benedict opposing a budget they felt was still too large. 

Councilor Jessica Holbrook, who proposed the school budget amendment, said the average tax impact for homeowners will be an additional $155 this year. 

The School Board Thursday voted to reduce the student supplies budget by $100,000, and eliminated $132,000 for new positions to accommodate the Town Council’s order.

The board will also cut $55,000 from the historically underfunded school nutrition budget, adjust teacher benefit savings, and use $200,000 from the school’s undesignated surplus.

If voters approve the budget, School Department Director of Business and Finance Kate Bolton estimated the surplus would drop to $350,000. 

Board members said they were disappointed, but not surprised, by the last-minute changes. 

“I was sincere when I said arbitrary and unilateral cuts don’t do anything,” school Finance Committee Chairman Chris Caiazzo said Thursday. “I think we’ve gained some grounds, it’s not as much as I’d like, but at least we’re still moving forward.”

Councilors also unanimously reduced the town budget by more than a quarter million dollars, which raises the town portion of property taxes by 0.55 percent. It cuts seven of 14 proposed new jobs for fiscal year 2015, including four EMT firefighters and a school resource officer at Wentworth. 

The town and school budgets passed first readings on April 2. Since then, the council and school finance committees have met and separately recommended reductions.

The Town Council has the power to approve or deny the total school budget, but cannot control line items. 

Before approving the budgets, the council voted 4-2 against an amendment that would have reduced the school budget by nearly an additional $1 million.

On May 1, the School Board passed its proposed school budget of $42.9 million, which, under pressure from residents and town councilors, cut four proposed new full-time positions. But the proposal still included five new positions and bumped another five current employees from part-time to full-time positions, as part of the School Department’s effort to rebound from cuts in 2010.  

Contrary to rumors, the fiscal year 2015 proposal never included laptop computers for high school students, although most neighboring communities have them, board members said.

“That’s got to show you, this budget has no fluff,” board member Kelly Murphy said May 1. “This is the bare minimum to keep things ticking along, and our kids are missing out every year we don’t invest.

“It’s absolutely all essential, and not even nearly enough,” she said. 

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.