Public hearing shows support for Scarborough school budget

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SCARBOROUGH — Several residents voiced support for the $50 million school budget at a public hearing Wednesday, imploring the Town Council not to make additional cuts.

A half dozen emails sent to the council that expressed support for the budget were also read during the May 2 meeting. 

Resident Stacey Neumann, a mother of three school children, said she will support the budget, although she is unhappy with some of the cuts, including the loss of a second-grade teacher at Blue Point Elementary School.

“I don’t like this budget, it’s too trimmed down,” Neumann said, although she added those who crafted the budget did an excellent job, and she understands why it is so lean. 

“The town has never been more divided. I hope people will come together and support the budget, and I ask others to vote yes,” Neumann said. “We don’t need another divisive school budget summer; we can’t recover from it.”  

Neumann spoke in reference to the three votes it took to pass the current school budget a year ago. 

Last month, town and school officials presented a net $65 million combined budget that assumes a 5.3 percent tax increase.

Whether the proposal remains intact remains to be seen, since the Town Council has said it wants to cap annual tax increases at 3 percent.

If the increase is capped at 3 percent, owners of a home valued at $300,000 would pay about $5,150 in taxes next year, according to Town Manager Tom Hall’s calculations. 

Under the combined budget, an additional $3.3 million, or 5.3 percent, would have to be raised through property taxes, compared with current spending.

Hall and Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger described their fiscal year 2019 proposals as bare-bones spending plans needed to maintain services and improve education. 

Hall described the $34.4 million town budget, up by 5.5 percent, or $1.8 million, as “corrective,” noting there was a heavy use of the fund balance this year.

The net town budget is about $16 million when factoring in revenue. 

If the council pares down the budget, Hall said, the reality would include a reduction of services, but at a magnitude to be decided by the council.

A commercial property revaluation, continuing through the spring, will likely have a positive impact on taxes, Hall said, but he emphasized it is too soon to know what the effect will be.

The town budget includes $15 million in bonds approved to pay for a new public safety building, which pushes this year’s budget up by $756,000, and a rise in salaries and benefits for town employees, which accounts for 60 percent of the budget, Hall said. 

School budget

Kukenberger said the School Department’s proposed $50 million budget, including adult education and nutritional services, covers only essential services.

The net budget proposal of $44.9 million seeks an additional $2.5 million in taxes next year, a nearly 6 percent increase, although the increase in expenditures is only 2.9 percent.  

The superintendent said the budget proposal meets the schools’ needs and would continue to improve the town’s school system. 

The budget is driven by the increasing needs of students who require individualized programming and services – an increase of $375,000 – as well as an additional kindergarten teacher at Pleasant Hill School due to an enrollment increase – a cost of $75,000 – and an increase in salaries and benefits for staff. 

Kukenberger said those salaries and benefits account for 74 percent of the budget.

Reductions in the budget include two teaching positions at the middle school, as well as a position at Wentworth Intermediate School, all due to declining enrollment. 

The superintendent said some services would be expanded, including introducing foreign languages to fifth-graders and expanding general music education to the eighth-grade. 

The town budget will go to a second reading and vote May 16, after the Finance Committee meets again May 10.

The school budget referendum vote will be 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, at Scarborough High School. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net or on Twitter @JulietteLaaka.

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