SCARBOROUGH — Town councilors on Wednesday adopted a $65 million combined school and town budget and certified recall election results that ousted three Board of Education members.
School Board Chairwoman Donna Beeley and members Cari Lyford and Jodi Shea were removed from office in a clear-cut victory for foes of how issues affecting the schools have been handled in recent months.
More than 4,500 residents turned out to vote May 8, and the results were certified by the council Wednesday.
Residents have had concerns about school leadership, transparency and the resignation of Scarborough High School Principal David Creech, which has been described by Creech’s lawyer as a forced resignation.
Beeley was recalled by a vote of 3,086 to 1,496. Lyford was removed from office, 3,047 to 1,535. The vote against Shea was 3,040 to 1,550.
The board’s four remaining members, enough for a quorum, will meet May 29 and will decide then whether to hold a special election to fill the vacancies or wait until the November general election. A special election could cost the town $5,000, according to Town Clerk Tody Justice.
Paul Johnson, one of the most outspoken critics of how the board and Kukenberger have handled recent issues, last week said the right thing now would be for Kukenberger to leave office.
He said if Kukenberger doesn’t leave of her own accord, Road to Renewal, the group behind the recall, already has at least three candidates ready to run for School Board who are “aligned with our vision for a change in leadership.”
Road to Renewal has already vetted at least eight people interested in running and three of those are definites, Johnson said.
Councilors voted 5-2 to adopt an amendment recommended by the finance committee to cut $205,000 from the municipal budget and to send the school budget to a June 12 referendum vote.
During public comment, speakers asked the council to carve more from the budget, to get the tax rate at 3 percent before factoring in potential revaluation money.
“Do the right thing, don’t pit the town against each other,” said Paula O’Brien, saying the council was not looking for savings in the budget, and that taxpayers deserved a break.
Many of the cuts are deferments, including a crew cab pick-up truck with a plow, office renovations for the planning department, and ground-penetrating radar for the police department.
Councilors Peter Hayes and Katy Foley voted against the budget, though Foley presented two amendments to further reduce both the school and municipal budget by a combined $500,000. The amendments were rejected by the council because were brought before the panel that same afternoon.
Added to an overlay fund was $350,000 to account for potential liability over a tax assessment case, which will depend on the court’s ruling in a challenge by residents over a program that reduced the assessment on abutting properties.
The program has been permitted by state revenue officials and resulted in assessment reductions on about 110 properties in town, ranging from a few thousand dollars for inland parcels to a few million for waterfront properties. Some homeowners saved as much as $60,000 in yearly taxes, according to the Portland Press Herald.
The 52 residents of Prouts Neck and Higgins Beach went to court in 2014 after the town’s Board of Assessment Review rejected their requests for abatements on rising tax bills.
Council Chairman William Donovan said with the town’s partial revaluation of commercial properties, the overall tax impact to residents could be 1.4 percent. The increase in estimates ranges from $100 million to $166 million, but will not be known until August, he said.
Not considering the reevaluation, the tax impact is 4.1 percent, higher than the council’s original goal to keep the tax impact at 3 percent or lower. Donovan said Wednesday the potential impact of 1.4 percent is likely the lowest tax hike the town will see in many years.
Last month, town and school officials presented a net $65 million combined budget.
Hall described the $34.4 million town budget, up by 5.5 percent in spending, 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.
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.
Kukenberger said previously 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 school budget referendum vote will be 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, at Scarborough High School.