Scarborough school chief promises 'minimal impact on students' in revised budget

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SCARBOROUGH — Town and school officials on Wednesday hinted at how they may propose cutting $307,000 from the municipal and school budgets.

The Town Council workshop was held after of the defeat of the school budget validation referendum on June 13, when  57 percent of voters opposed a $47 million budget for fiscal 2018. Voter turnout was about 25 percent.

The council passed a first reading of a revised budget June 21 that would require cutting $246,000 from the original education spending plan. The goal of the new proposal is an overall tax increase of no more than 3 percent.

The second school budget referendum is set for July 25, but first councilors must pass a second reading of the budget, which is scheduled for Wednesday, July 5. Until voters approve a budget, the fiscal 2017 spending plan will remain in place as of July 1.

During the June 28 workshop, Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger said she is “fully prepared to meet the goal” of removing $236,000 from the budget and is confident it will have “minimal impact on students.”

The cuts would also “avoid those areas of high emotion,” the school chief said.

Kukenberger suggested that some of the adjustments could be achieved by eliminating office equipment replacements and adjusting staffing, but details won’t be revealed until she meets with the School Board after the July 5 council meeting. 

Under the council’s new proposed budget, school spending would increase 6.8 percent, down from the 7.4 percent initially proposed, for an overall 2.99 percent increase in taxes under a mid-range estimate. The increase in the school budget is mostly due to an expected $1.4 million loss in state subsidy.

For owners of a $300,000 home, the annual 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.

Town Manager Thomas Hall on Wednesday said he found $71,000 in savings on the municipal side of the budget, including $51,000 from temporary vacancies and benefits adjustments. The town could also realize a $20,000 savings by deferring a capital project to replace $20,000 in carpet for the lower level of the Scarborough Municipal Building, Hall said.

He said the town will save about $22,000 until a replacement is hired for former Planning Director Dan Bacon, who left in the spring. Hall said he is close to making a hiring decision.

Savings will also be realized, he said, because the deputy director of public works is retiring Friday and the human resources director is leaving. Nearly $21,000 will be saved until those positions are filled.

A firefighters contract settled after the municipal budget was passed will produce another $8,000 in savings, Hall said.

The consensus among residents who spoke Wednesday was a desire to pass a school budget. They expressed frustration that the town has regularly failed to present budgets acceptable to voters. In 2015, voters rejected the budget twice; it took two attempts in 2012, and three referendums in 2013.

William Bly said he moved his family from Portland 8 1/2 years ago because of the reputation of the schools, but he is “very distraught that we are back here again. It feels like Groundhog Day every year.”

“If we don’t fund our schools and pay the teachers, what are our schools going to look like,” Bly said. “Property values will be impacted if families move away.”

But Susan Hamill said the town needs to “get realistic” and rein in the tax increase at 2.5 percent. “We need to roll up our sleeves, we need to plan better for possible projects,” she said.

Hamill the town needs better long-range planning, debt reduction, less borrowing and an end to shifting expenses between operating and capital budgets.

Jenny Jubulis said she is “completely dismayed at the school budget being voted down repeatedly.”

She called education the “greatest equalizer “and said she worries about what will happen to the schools if the town “continues down this path of divisiveness.”

Paula O’Brien said she agrees that “kids deserve a great education,” but she is not in favor of the proposed budget.

O’Brien said senior citizens and single parents on limited incomes won’t be able to continue to live in town. 

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

Scarborough School Superintendent Julie Kukenberger, left, and Town Manager Thomas J. Hall presented their original budgets for fiscal year 2018 on April 5.