Scarborough narrowly approves school budget

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SCARBOROUGH — Voters approved the School Department’s $48.5 million school budget Tuesday by 98 votes, 2,966 to 2,868.

The margin of less than 2 percent wasn’t surprising, given the turmoil that has recently engulfed the schools – including the recall of three School Board members and calls for the superintendent’s resignation – and the town’s history of rejecting the school budget.

Last year, it took three referendums before the budget was adopted by voters in September. In 2015, residents defeated it twice; it took two attempts in 2012, and three in 2013.

At the polls Tuesday, resident Rachel Hendrickson said she voted in favor of the fiscal 2019 budget because it’s a smart investment in Scarborough’s children. 

Conversely, Leslie Fitzpatrick, who voted absentee, said she voted against the budget because of its 3 percent tax increase. If she wants to retire in Scarborough, she said, she won’t be able to afford to stay if there’s a similar uptick each year. 

The total tax impact, factoring in the $34 million town budget as well as commercial and residential revaluation, is expected to be 1.4 percent. That means owners of a home valued at $300,000 will pay $5,019 in taxes, or $72 more than this year, according to Town Manager Thomas Hall. 

Superintendent Julie Kukenberger said in an email early Wednesday morning that administrators are thankful the community voted to support the budget, students and staff.

She added the board has worked to improve communication with the community about the budget. 
 
“Scarborough is an amazing community with much to be grateful for and appreciate. We value the support of our community and are committed to being excellent stewards of their tax dollars as we work to serve all of our students,” Kukenberger said.  
 
Resident Steve Hanly, a vocal critic of the budget, said Wednesday via email 

the group opposing the budget, called SMARTaxes, “was obviously disappointed by the apparent approval of the school budget yesterday.  In particular we were disappointed that the budget failed to achieve the Town Council’s own goal of a less than 3 percent tax rate increase prior to the impact of the commercial property revaluation.”
 
Hanly said he hopes town officials will review the vote tabulation, given the margin of fewer than 100 votes that decided the outcome. 
 
The net budget 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. Kukenberger in April said it covers only essential services.

The budget is driven by the 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.

Rising costs for health care that came in late in the budget process forced the board to decide how to absorb an additional $41,000. To offset the cost without raising more money, the board voted May 29 to defer replacing administration laptop computers and some kitchen equipment and to reduce a technology equipment account.

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.

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

Voters gather outside Scarborough High School on Election Day, Tuesday, June 12.

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