Scarborough council sends 2nd school budget to voters, with $100K added

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SCARBOROUGH — After adding $100,000 back into the school budget last week, the Town Council voted unanimously June 2 to send a $34.9 million budget to voters next week.

The decision comes after voters narrowly rejected the previous school budget in a referendum vote on May 11. The public will have a second chance to vote on the budget on Tuesday, June 8.

The addition to the budget, recommended by the School Board, will come from the Teacher Accrual Account, which is an emergency fund that would be used to pay teacher salaries between the end of the fiscal year and the beginning of the school year in the event of a permanent school closure.

The addition will not change the proposed 3.95 percent tax increase.

“It’s a revenue issue,” Councilor Michael Wood said Wednesday night. “I think the School Board did the responsible thing, and tweaked it in a small way.”

The initial school budget included the reduction of 31 full-time equivalent positions. School Board officials say they are waiting until the voters pass the final budget before making decisions about what will be added back in.

“Put your teachers back in. Don’t put paper back in,” Councilor Jessica Holbrook said after the meeting.

Holbrook criticized the schools for not finding more ways to cut costs before cutting teachers and said during the meeting that she will vote against the budget at the polls because it is too high.

“I think they can be managing their money a lot better,” Holbrook said.

The School Board had also recommended the town appropriate $100,000 from the undesignated fund balance, or “rainy day fund,” to offset the tax rate. That measure was rejected in a special meeting on May 24.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the council held a public hearing attended by approximately 15 people. Five citizens spoke during the hearing, three in favor of increasing the budget and two in favor of reducing it.

“You spend money like it’s water,” Martin Tripp said during the hearing. 

Tripp called for the schools to move graduation back to the high school gymnasium and said he does not support a laptop computer program. The council voted in April to turn down the school’s request to purchase laptops for all the high school students as part of a capital improvement plan.

Chris Fream said he voted against the budget the first time because it was too low. 

“It’s a short-sighted solution to a problem that won’t go away,” he said. “Not having a strong school system is a detriment to the community.”

In other news, the council also voted unanimously to approve the creation of an ad hoc Higgins Beach Parking Advisory Committee to make recommendations for the recently acquired town property and parking lot at Higgins Beach and other parking considerations for the area.

The committee will have seven members, including property owners in the Higgins Beach area, citizens at large, a local representative from the Surfrider Foundation, a resident of Acorn Lane, and a member of the Town Council.

Town Manager Tom Hall said he hopes the committee will make its recommendations to the council by September.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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