Scarborough Town Council trims school budget again

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SCARBOROUGH — In its meeting Wednesday, just days before the second school budget referendum, the Town Council voted in favor of removing another  $186,000 from the proposed school budget. 

The reduction would increase the 2015 property tax impact by 2.9 percent, as opposed to the most recently proposed 3.25 percent. 

When voters rejected the first $42.3 million proposed school budget for fiscal year 2015 by 157 votes on May 13, the council cut an additional $138,000 in their next meeting. 

Considering Wednesday’s $186,000 cut, the town mil rate would increase 43 cents to $15.20 per $1,000 of assessed value from the current rate of $14.77. The impact on a home worth $300,000 would be $129 more next year. 

After more than two hours of public comments in a packed council chambers Wednesday evening, councilors were split 4-3 over reducing the total further. 

Councilor Bill Donovan presented the new budget reduction in an attempt to meet halfway with residents unhappy with tax increases, while still providing enough of a spending increase the school could technically maintain “level services.” Councilors Jessica Holbrook, Katherine St. Clair, and Council Chair Richard Sullivan voted with him. 

“We’re just not in a position to add any substantial number of personnel or programmatic scope,” Donovan said.

Sullivan said he had “never heard a larger outcry” from disgruntled taxpayers than this year and hoped residents could appreciate Donovan’s compromise. 

“Neither side’s going to be happy with that, but I felt that that was the right thing to do,” he said of the 2.9 percent tax increase.

Councilors James Benedict and Ed Blaise felt the cuts were too small. Throughout the budget process they have only supported a flat-line tax increase of 1.5 percent. 

Councilor Jean Marie Caterina felt the cuts were too great, and was the only councilor in favor of a 3.25 percent tax increase. 

Nearly 40 residents came forward to speak on the budget. Turnout of residents supporting the school budget was significantly higher than it has been since the process began in March, with a notable number of new residents with young children speaking out.

Stacy Newman, of Windsor Pines Drive, chose to move to Scarborough five years ago with her three young children mainly because she was “told that Scarborough has an excellent school system.”

But many of the programs, like arts, music and languages, that she and other parents were excited to provide for their children were cut in the late 2000s and have not been restored. 

“I feel somewhat betrayed,” she said.

Equally passionate were those opposed to the proposed tax increase, led by the recently-formed taxpayer group Scarborough Citizens for Sensible Taxes, who held their first public meeting this Tuesday.

Mike Turek of Bayberry Lane, one of the group’s founders, presented the council with a document signed by 73 residents sympathetic to their cause. 

The Town Council can determine the school budget’s bottom line, but cannot control where cuts are made within the budget itself. If the budget passes next Tuesday, the School Board will decide which line items will take the hit. 

The reduced school budget proposal will go for a second validation vote next Tuesday, June 10, at Scarborough High School. 

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.