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- The Forecaster
SCARBOROUGH — Voters will return to the polls July 25 for a second school budget referendum, this time to weigh a $47.1 million spending plan.
On June 13, 57 percent of voters opposed a $47.4 million budget for fiscal year 2018. Voter turnout was about 25 percent.
The School Board has cut $236,000 from its initial proposal, resulting in a 6.8 percent increase in school spending, down from 7.4 percent in the first budget.
The reductions include not hiring a high school career academy coordinator, for a reduction of $75,000; reducing a behavioral specialist from full time to part time; further cuts in both instructional supplies and professional development; replacing fewer athletic uniforms, and reducing the hours of a part-time athletic department secretary.
Voters have a history of rejecting the school budget. In 2015, they defeated it twice; it took two attempts in 2012, and three referendums in 2013.
“I think that it is going to be tough,” Julie Kukenberger, superintendent of schools, said. “I hope that people who didn’t get out and vote (the first time) will this time.”
As referendum day draws closer, signs both for and against the new budget can be spotted along Scarborough streets. Red signs proclaim “School tax increase 6.8% NO! July 25,” while blue signs urge people to “Vote YES! For our schools.”
In addition to the reduced school budget proposal, the town has agreed to trim an additional $71,000 from the municipal budget. The combined impact will produce an estimated property tax increase of just under 3 percent.
Town Manager Thomas Hall said in a post on the town website that school and town officials listened to the voters and the cuts are the most they can do without affecting the quality of education.
“Although it is tempting, it is simply not realistic or prudent to believe that significant additional reductions in school spending can be made in the near term without having a direct impact in the classroom,” Hall said.
But Steve Hanly, of Scarborough Maine Advocates for Reasonable Taxes, or SMARTaxes, said the citizen group is again urging residents to vote against the budget.
“One of the issues that the defeat of the first school budget highlighted was the concern many residents have with the assumption that the tax rate should be increased by 3 percent every year,” Hanly said. “Many have spoken out, saying that a 3 percent increase year after year is not ‘sustainable’ in their financial circumstances.
“Town officials need to keep in mind that Scarborough is an economically diverse community. While there are a large number of affluent households in the town, there are also a large number of households for which annual 3 percent increases in their tax bills are not sustainable,” he continued. “The average age of town residents is increasing, while the median income level is decreasing. Town officials need to keep this in mind as they set tax rates that balance superior schools with affordable tax rates for all.”
Under the new proposed budget, property owners could see a 48-cent increase in the tax rate, to $16.40 per $1,000 of valuation. For owners of a $300,000 home, the annual projected tax increase would be $144, for a combined tax bill of $4,920. The increase could be as much as 3.66 percent or as low as 2.33 percent, depending on valuations to be completed later this summer.
“I hope they think 2.99 percent is reasonable,” Kukenberger said. “I’m hoping those who didn’t think 3.49 percent was reasonable will think 2.9 is more acceptable.”
She called the new proposal a “good solid budget” with “nothing flashy in it.”
“It is a budget that everyone in the community can support,” Kukenberger said.
Scarborough lost about $1.4 million in general purpose aid from the state this year and will receive just over $2.1 million. In light of that, Hanly and other budget opponents say the cuts offered are not deep enough.
“Over the past few years, the schools have continued to make additions to programs and staff at a time when state funding was clearly being reduced and enrollment was declining,” he said. “This has led to local taxpayers shouldering a heavier burden of school costs.”
Signs along U.S. Route 1, near the muncipal building urge residents how to vote in the upcoming July 25 school budget referendum.