Scarborough school budget hearing draws small crowd

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SCARBOROUGH — Few residents attended and even fewer spoke at a Town Council public hearing Tuesday on the latest school budget proposal.

About two dozen people attended the meeting, in contrast to the standing-room-only crowds that marked prior debates on the budget, which now faces a third voter referendum more than two months after the start of the fiscal year.

Only three residents expressed their views on the third budget proposed for fiscal 2018, two for and one against.

A second reading of the proposed budget is set for Aug. 16. Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger will announce how she proposes to cut $50,000 from the $47.1 million budget during a 7 p.m. School Board meeting Aug. 17.

The validation referendum is set for Sept. 5.

At the Tuesday hearing, Art DiMauro spoke in favor of the latest proposal, saying he also supported the two budgets previously defeated by voters.

“You are using our tax dollars extremely well and in a very efficient way,” DiMauro told the Town Council. “I think you have done a tremendous amount of good work. I think you had it the first time around, but here we are and hopefully it will go down more favorable.

“The constituency that is impacted by this vote is not here. They’re not old enough to vote, but if we could ask those 3,000 kids, one at a time where they would fall on the decision as to how that money would be spent, I think we know where the vast majority would come down,” DiMauro said.

Susan Hamill used her time to not only address the current proposal, but to focus on future budgets and address what she called “the real problem.”

Hamill said the town needs to forecast and budget for more than one year out, reduce long-term debt and “take a hard look at everything we do on both the school side and the municipal side to make sure that what we do is efficient, effective and really valued.”

“I am asking you to please commit to starting this important work on our long-term financial strategy now,” Hamill said. “Make a commitment now to make this honest effort.”

On June 13, 57 percent of residents voted against a proposed $47.4 million budget, which represented a 7.4 percent increase in spending for education. It was part of a 3.49 percent total tax increase that included municipal and county spending.

After the first budget failed, a second budget, proposing a 6.8 percent increase in school spending, was sent to voters July 25. The proposed overall tax rate would have been about 2.99 percent. To get to that number the School Board cut $236,000 in spending, while the town trimmed $71,000 from the municipal budget.

Voters rejected the $47.1 million school budget, 1,930 to 1,847, in the second budget referendum.

The July 25 vote was the seventh time in the last six years a school budget has failed at the polls. In 2015, residents defeated it twice; it took two attempts in 2012, and three referendums in 2013.

During an Aug. 2 meeting, the Town Council voted to remove $50,000 from the $47.1 million school budget. On Aug. 3, a special School Board workshop to discuss the “potential impact of preserving, improving, or delaying investments” was held.

On Tuesday, Kukenberger spoke about the challenges school officials are facing.

“It’s not just about a bottom line,” she said. “We’re really trying to make sure that we continue the forward momentum toward achieving strategic teaching and learning goals, preserving the integrity of the curricular programs, extra curricular activities, and supports we have built over the last several years in an effort to educate the whole child, while producing a school budget that Scarborough voters will support.”

Kukenberger said there is a revenue problem, not a spending problem, due in part to continued reductions in state aid to education.

Absentee ballots are available for the September referendum, but cannot be turned in until Aug. 17. Early voting in the town clerk’s office will take place Aug. 17-31, during normal business hours. Voting on Sept. 5 is from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. at the Scarborough Municipal Building, 259 U.S. Route 1.

 Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.