SCARBOROUGH — Town councilors unanimously approved adding $250,000 back to the third proposed school budget Wednesday night.
The funding is half of what was deducted for the second, failed budget proposal, and $70,000 more than what was initially approved last week.
The addition creates a proposed operating budget of $43.5 million.
The School Department expects to receive approximately $885,000 in state education subsidies, which will help offset the taxpayer burden, and the new proposed local share of the operating budget will be about $37.7 million.
The net municipal and school budget would be about $57.8 million, with a tax rate increase of 2.9 percent. The projected mil rate would be $15.54 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
In comparison, the second budget proposal, overwhelmingly defeated on July 7, would have required $38.3 million in property tax revenue and a mil rate increase of just under 5 percent. The first budget proposal, rejected on June 9, produced a mil rate of $15.97 per $1,000.
The third budget referendum is scheduled for Aug. 4. Absentee ballots are available from the town clerk’s office, where early voting is also available.
Council Chairwoman Jessica Holbrook called the added funding a compromise for both the councilors and the School Board. “Certainly the community is expecting some form of leadership and some form of problem-solving method,” Holbrook said.
At this point, she said, “There’s not a whole lot else to do with this budget. … Nobody is happy with the outcome … this is not a budget that anybody loves.”
The 2.9 percent increase, Holbrook said, is “the best we’re going to hope (for) out of the budget this year.”
School Board member Chris Caiazzo, who has been a critic of school budget cuts, said he “can’t promise you that this compromise will not affect programming at our schools. However, I will promise you that the board will continue to do its duty in good faith to identify the areas that will have the least impact on the day to day activities of all of our students.”
Public discourse aimed at councilors was considerably more mild-mannered and respectful than at the first reading a week earlier. Most speakers, however, still requested that more money be reinstated to preserve existing school services.
“Compromise is a word that has been used quite a bit, but in my mind, compromise implies two equal sides coming together, and I don’t think that’s the case in this situation,” Robin Twombly, of Pond View Drive, said.
“I think the majority clearly stands for the school system,” Twombly said. “I will not vote for anything less than the level services.”
Several speakers, including councilors and School Board members, cited dysfunction on a larger scope. They said the next step, once a budget is passed, is to implement a sustainable budget-forming process that involves the council, School Board and residents.
“I’m not here to argue for or against a budget; that question has torn this town apart to a degree that isn’t healthy,” said Liam Somers, of Holmes Road.
The more important question, he said, is “how do we go forward from here?”
Somers outlined questions he said the board and the town should ask.
“If the schools are underfunded dramatically, let’s close the gap … what increase does the board need to provide level services? Let’s get it out there, let’s have the discussion now. We’re adults, let’s figure it out together,” Somers said.
He also advised residents that “if we want to help our schools, it takes more than just money. It (takes) engagement and a town that is willing not just to support themselves (but everyone else in the district).”
Councilor Peter Hayes said he was pleased with the comments from the public.
“There’s probably (people on) both sides who aren’t happy with this, but I did hear a little bit different language (and) people saying (they’re) really looking forward to changing the process for next year so we don’t end up in the same place,” Hayes said.
Councilor Bill Donovan said there is a silver lining to what has happened since voters rejected the first proposed school budget on June 9. “School supporters are energized,” he said. “That’s a wonderful outcome to have for this community.”
But Councilor Shawn Babine said he doesn’t think the community is divided or that the budget process is broken. “I think the part that broke down was voter apathy,” Babine said, “and the communication between both our boards after the first referendum.”
Councilors also addressed their July 15 unanimous decision to eliminate the advisory question of too low, too high, or just right, from the third referendum, which came after most members of the public had left council chambers.
Babine said he “never appreciated this question,” and that its original intent was to curb submission of ballots that weren’t correctly filled out. “It had nothing to do with knowing what you really wanted,” he said.