Scarborough sets school budget vote No. 3 for Sept. 5

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SCARBOROUGH The Town Council voted Wednesday during a first reading to remove $50,000 from the proposed school budget and schedule the town’s third referendum on school funding for Sept. 5.

A special School Board meeting was scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 3, when members were expected to discuss how to trim the $50,000 from the $47.1 million budget.

Councilors also scheduled a public hearing on the budget for Aug. 8. A second reading was set for Aug. 16.

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.

On June 13, 57 percent of residents voted against a proposed $47.4 million budget, which represented a 7.4 percent increase in spending on 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 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.

Councilor Chris Caiazzo, who proposed that the $50,000 cut, on Wednesday said “I  do think elections have consequences and I think we need to make some adjustment.”

Caiazzo said he didn’t think it was fair to reduce services across the board, and if the cut is too small “it becomes nominal;” too large, he said, and it would be cutting into services.

Chairman Shawn Babine called the previous school budgets “defensible.” But Babine also said the voters mattered, and he was comfortable with $50,000. Babine said he would not support a reduction of $1.5 million, which would reduce the school budget by about 3 percent.

A cut is necessary, said Councilor William Donovan, who called the $50,000 substantial, and equal to the cost of a teacher. Councilor Peter Hayes also supported the move, but discussed other measures like efficiency analysis and financial modeling as things voters want as possible solutions to “get the community to a healthier place.”

Councilor Katherine St. Clair supported the reduction, and called the cut “astronomical” for the schools.

Councilors Katy Foley and Will Rowan both voted against the proposal, with Rowan saying he was concerned it could “erode the quality of the schools.”

During a workshop prior to the meeting, Town Manager Tom Hall and councilors discussed the referendum date, whether cuts should come from the both the municipal and school budgets, and how much should be cut.

They also discussed whether to hold the second reading and public hearing on the same day, and what the tax implications would be if residents didn’t approve the budget on the third attempt.

Councilors said they decided to delay the referendum to Sept. 5 – the day after Labor Day – after receiving many calls and emails from residents concerned that an August vote would suppress turnout.

“There was no attempt for voter suppression,” Babine said.

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