School budget cuts will be Scarborough Town Council's call
SCARBOROUGH — As he prepared for Thursday night's special School Board meeting, Finance Committee Chairman Chris Caiazzo said the ultimate revision of the $39 million fiscal year budget rejected by voters on May 14 will come next week from town councilors.
Councilors will hold a special 7 p.m. meeting on May 29 for a first reading on the revised budget that comes out of the School Board.
The first budget proposed by the School Board and Town Council was rejected by a referendum vote of 898-643. The date for a second referendum has not been set by councilors, but is expected to be June 11.
Directed on Wednesday by the Town Council Finance Committee to reduce the education budget spending increase to 3 percent, Caiazzo said he will introduce a budget with about $50,000 in spending reductions and an outline of seven more tiers of spending cuts at about the same amount.
“We need to inform council of the ramifications," Caiazzo said. "It is not just an arbitrary figure. There are real program impacts that will happen, and those are areas the board is not comfortable going to."
Since its introduction March 13, when Superintendent of Schools George Entwistle III proposed a 10.6 percent spending increase, the education budget has been reduced to an increase of about 4.1 percent. In January, councilors set goals of 3 percent increases for school and municipal budgets.
The last mandated education cut came when councilors removed $623,500 on May 1. The Town Council has final say on the school budget, but lacks line-item veto power.
At the May 1 meeting, Council Vice Chairwoman Judy Roy suggested about $525,000 of the reduction could be achieved by removing consideration of local contributions to pensions now paid by the state. Roy is also chairwoman of the council Finance Committee.
The biennial state budget introduced by Gov. Paul LePage in January called for shifting pension contributions to local school districts, with $15 million in state education aid added for partial reimbursements.
Entwistle said he was asked to prepare the lists of what would face reduction or elimination in each tier, and tried to avert direct program cuts in the classroom.
"As we look at any reductions, I try to keep them away from the classrooms," he said.
Athletics and extra-curricular activities were the first order of consideration, Entwistle said, and the educational program cuts would likely target foreign language instruction in lower grade levels.
More voters called the rejected budget too high on May 14 than actually voted against it. At the 4.1-percent level of spending increases, coupled with a potential loss of $1.6 million in state aid, the education budget would have been the major driver of a property tax increase of $1.09 per $1,000 of assessed value from the current $13.80 rate.
Entwistle and Caiazzo said the budget, pared down from Entwistle's initial $41.37 million, barely restores what has been eliminated in the past several years.
"I think one of the things people should remember is there was a reduction of 41 positions a few years ago that have never been regained," the school chief said.
The current $37.4 million education budget played the biggest role in a 6 percent property tax increase for fiscal year 2013. As councilors concluded their May 15 meeting, they noted that even if voter turnout for the May 14 referendum was 10 percent, it clearly signalled voters would not stand for another large property tax increase.
Thursday's School Board meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. at Town Hall.
In other School Department business:
• The selection process for a new principal at Scarborough High School continued this week as Kennebunk High School Assistant Principal David Creech met parents and students at the high school.
Entwistle said Creech is the only finalist among 30 candidates reviewed by a committee led by Pleasant Hill Primary School Principal Kelly Mullen-Martin and Scarborough Middle School Principal Barbara Hathorn.
Entwistle will now interview Creech. He said the selection process is not tied to a deadline.
If appointed, Creech will replace an interim leadership team headed by Curriculum Director Monique Culberbertson, high school Assistant Principals Ray Dunn and Susan Ketch, and Athletic Director Mike LeGage. The team stepped in to run the school after the January resignation of Principal Dean Auriemma.
• New kindergarten, first- and second-grade students who previously would have attended Blue Point Primary School on Black Point Road will attend Eight Corners Primary School in the fall.
Entwistle said the change, to ensure primary schools have equal class sizes, is expected to affect about 15 students who live in the area of Payne Road near the Scarborough Marsh, and in the vicinity of Mitchell Hill and Holmes roads.