Scarborough voters finally approve a school budget

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SCARBOROUGH — After defeating two previous referendums, voters on Tuesday approved a $43.5 million school budget that is approximately $250,000 larger than the one they last rejected July 7.

Support for the budget topped 61 percent, 1,679 to 1,053.

The sum of the municipal and school budget for fiscal 2016 is $57.8 million, with a tax rate increase of 2.9 percent. The projected mil rate will be $15.54 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Turnout on Aug. 4 was 18 percent of registered voters, nearly 10 percent lower than the July referendum, when nearly 4,100 voters cast ballots. It was also below the turnout for the first referendum on June 9, when 20 percent of the electorate voted.

Scarborough has a recent habit of rejecting school budgets. Since 2011, the town has only passed a budget on the first attempt once; since then, including this year, voters have defeated school budgets a total of 10 times.

Plans to break the habit are already on the minds of elected officials and town staff.

While the normal budget process will begin in mid-to-late December, Town Manager Tom Hall said, “There needs to be some broader-level discussions about overall budget submission review and approval time frames.”

Hall said earlier action is necessary, along with streamlining how budget information becomes available.

“We might provide more budget information than most communities (to the point where) there can be an overload,” Hall said. “To have a go-to resource, if you will, with relevant, easier-to-understand information is a goal that will take some advance conversation.”

As social media continues to be a primary way voters share, receive and comment on election information, figuring out how, if and to what extent elected officials should be involved should continue to be a topic of discussion, he said.

School Board member Chris Caiazzo on Wednesday said the School Board and the Town Council, in reflecting on this budget cycle, should begin with discussions about “what is a level services budget?”

Caiazzo said he is also interested in beginning the conversation on a macro scale, and to take a “lessons-learned approach.”

The process won’t involve numbers, but philosophies and standards, including polling councilors and School Board members about the budget cycle and discussing improvements that could be made in communication.

“We agreed at the beginning of this process to do a retrospective at the end,” Caiazzo said. “Certainly I think it was a vast improvement (from previous) years, (and) while it wasn’t perfect, it was a good step forward.”

“Again, this isn’t the beginning of the end, it’s the end of the beginning,” he said.

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

Sidebar Elements

Ralph Masciovecchio, right, a founding member of the Scarborough Volunteers in Police Services, watches John Leighton Jr. cast his ballot Tuesday evening at the Municipal Building in the third Scarborough school budget validation referendum.

Volunteers, most of whom are members of the Scarborough Volunteers in Police Services, counted 2,754 ballots by hand Tuesday night, Aug. 4, at the Scarborough Municipal Building after the third school budget validation referendum.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.