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Scarborough School Board members urge defeat of revised budget

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Scarborough School Board members urge defeat of revised budget

SCARBOROUGH — The School Board finance committee, taking direction from the Town Council, eliminated $500,000 in a revised School Department budget proposal that goes to voters July 7.

Board members said the reduction will cripple clubs, sports and after-school activities. 

After voters rejected the first proposed school budget June 9, the Town Council has approved two changes: the reduction of $500,000 from the operating budget, and the decision to leverage any additional state General Purpose Aid against the proposed increase in property taxes, barring receipt of the state aid by the first commitment date in August. 

With Councilors Bill Donovan and Jean-Marie Caterina dissenting, the council voted 4-2 on June 24 for a revised School Department operating budget of $43.3 million. 

The proposed budget uses $38.3 million in property tax revenue, and would mean an overall property tax rate increase of just under 5 percent, to $15.82 per $1,000 of assessed value. Owners of properties valued at $300,000 would see an annual tax increase of $216.

The budget voters rejected proposed a tax rate of $15.97.

At the June 24 Town Council meeting, before Town Councilors approved the reduced school budget, School Board member Chris Caiazzo pleaded with the council for a reprieve of $180,000.

"If we continue to look entirely at expenditures and we adhere to our shared belief that core academic programming should be preserved at all costs, then it falls to the areas of extra-curricular (sports) and co-curricular (activities) to make up the remaining $180,000 gap," Caiazzo said.

The operating budget reductions, finalized by the finance committee on June 25 , include the elimination of band, chorus, jazz band, Key Club, Model UN, fall cheerleading, wrestling and boys and girls tennis at Scarborough High School; all clubs at Wentworth Intermediate School, and all sports programs, chorus and jazz band at Scarborough Middle School. 

"Personally, I am not supporting the budget at all, (and) I hope the budget doesn't pass," Caiazzo said Monday morning. "Frankly, we feel that's not our budget."

"Obviously if the vote fails, and we hope it does, we'll have to get together again (with the Town Council)," Caiazzo said. "I'm hoping we can open the discussion again about the surplus."

Donna Beeley, chairwoman of the board, said she voted against the revised budget on an absentee ballot.

"I feel that unfortunately the reductions are just too great," Beeley said Thursday. "It's hard to support those kinds of cuts."

Beeley said board members agree the cuts are too deep.

The situation is an unfortunate one "not just for our kids, but for our community. What does it say about a town that, every year for (at least three) years, can't get a school budget passed (on the first try)?" Beeley said. 

School Board member Jodi Shea said the revised budget fails to fulfill the School Department's core requirements. 

"I have been very public in stating that a $500,000 reduction on top of the initial $90,000 reduction before the first vote will have direct impact on our students, staff and system as a whole," Shea said Wednesday.

"We presented a budget with less than 1 percent in new program investments. That equates to about $335,000 in new investments, with more than half of that being state mandated for special education services," she said. "When you reduce that by $500,000, you start to impact current programs."

Some residents have complained about the increase in taxes and pleaded with the council to reduce the tax burden. The solution, Shea said, should not come at the expense of the school budget. 

"I feel strongly that it is time to create tax-relief programs for those citizens who need it; our school budget cannot continue to be the only option considered," she said.

In a letter this week, council Chairwoman Jessica Holbrook asked Scarborough to come together "as a community" and recognize the middle ground in the revised budget. 

"The proposed budget offers a revenue hole that is partially plugged, concessions are being considered, efficiencies are being identified and there is opportunity for greater tax relief with General Purpose Aid funding when the state finally pulls their budget together," Holbrook said.

"My personal civic vote will be yes for the school budget, and I hope you can join me. Even though I am unhappy with the current state of discussions within the School Board on how to get to the remaining $200,000."

Polls at Town Hall will be open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. on Tuesday for the second budget referendum. Absentee ballots must be returned by the time polls close.

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.