Third Scarborough school budget referendum possible Aug. 4

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

SCARBOROUGH — Town Manager Tom Hall on Wednesday said he hopes the Town Council will begin devising a third revised school budget, and possibly hold a first hearing, on Wednesday, July 15.

Hall also said he will propose that the third school budget referendum take place Aug. 4.

His comments came after voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected the proposed $43.3 million school budget, 3,584 to 496. 

It was the second time in a month that a proposed School Department spending plan for fiscal 2016 was defeated.

Now that the new fiscal year has begun, the budget most recently approved by the Town Council will go into effect until a new school budget is ratified by voters, Hall said. Councilors approved the revised budget that was rejected Tuesday on June 24, which means Tuesday’s failed budget will go into effect until a new one is approved. 

The rejected budget would have used $38.3 million in property tax revenue, and would mean an overall property tax rate increase of just under 5 percent, to $15.82 per $1,000 of assessed value. Owners of properties valued at $300,000 would see an annual tax increase of $216.

In an advisory question that produced almost evenly divided results, 2,047 voters, or 50 percent of those who responded, said the proposed budget was too low, 1,838 (45 percent) said it was too high, and 177 said it was acceptable.

Voter turnout on Tuesday was 26 percent.  

Ratification of the school budget has taken more than one attempt three of the last four years; approval took two attempts last year, three in 2013 and two in 2012. 

The revised budget included a reduction of $500,000 from the originally proposed $43.8 million. That difference, according to School Board member Chris Caiazzo, would have meant the elimination of many essential programs, including after-school clubs, sports and programs

A town divided

Recent Scarborough High School graduate Anna Bolton, 18, said Tuesday outside the polls that she and her dad, Jim, both voted against the second budget because it was too low.

Bolton said the proposed cuts in the revised budget would have had a negative impact on her education.

“With this budget they’re (trying) to pass, they’re going to cut out a lot of things that made my high school experience a great one,” Bolton, who performed in the school band and has friends who were in chorus, said. 

“All of my friends would have been affected by (at least one) of the cuts,” she said. 

Resident Jim Gleason also voted against the budget, but he said it was “too high.”

Gleason and his wife, who don’t have children in the school system and have lived in town for about 25 years, said the tax increase would have been too burdensome.

“I don’t get raises,” he said Tuesday afternoon after casting his ballot.

Gleason, whose wife just retired, said that the anticipated future trajectory of increased taxes will “definitely be a threat” to their ability to continue to live in town.

“I’m not retired yet, but I’d like to retire and stay in Scarborough,” Gleason said. 

In an email Tuesday following the failure of the second referendum, resident Stacey Neumann, speaking on behalf of the Supporters of Scarborough Schools, said group members feel the vote “indicates a re-commitment of our community to support and fund high-quality schools for our children.”

Steve Hanly, a resident who runs the blog and has opposed the School Board’s spending plan, also voted against what he called the “bizarro” budget and urged voters on Monday to do the same.

The nearly equal divide makes deciphering the next move difficult, Town Councilor Peter Hayes said. 

“It is almost deadlocked,” Hayes said Wednesday afternoon. “I think, unfortunately, if it had been clearer and more definitive, it would have made it easier.”

Now comes the “real test of leadership” among elected officials and residents, alike, Hayes said.

“How do we finesse this to get it to place where people are really comfortable with the outcome?,” he said.

Rather than going at it alone, School Board Chairwoman Donna Beeley said she hopes the council will solicit collaboration from the board on how to revise the budget for a third time. 

“We think we were collaborating well together all through the winter and spring months,” Beeley said. And while collaboration in the last month sort of “fell apart,” Beeley said she is “hopeful” that the two groups can “arrive at what makes sense.”

Moving forward, School Board member Caiazzo said, it’s very “important for both sides to refrain from making a lot of heavy rhetoric. … I think the worst thing we can do is start antagonizing people.”

The town can present a new budget to voters no fewer than 10 days and no more than 45 days after the latest referendum.

Rather than be hasty about it, since the town is already past its deadline, Caiazzo said officials should “approach it calmly and collaboratively.”

Hayes said everyone is trying to do what they think is right for the community.

“The predominant question everyone should be asking themselves at this stage is, how do we heal the community?,” he said. “How do we move forward?”

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

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.