Yarmouth referendums to decide school budget, recall provision

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YARMOUTH — Voters on June 12 will decide whether to adopt the School Department’s approximately $25 million budget for fiscal year 2019 and whether to add a recall provision to the Town Charter. 

The Town Council on May 3 voted unanimously in support of both the town and school budgets which, if combined as proposed with the county’s net tax rate, would increase the tax rate by 3.9 percent, or 67 cents, from $17.16 to $17.83 per $1,000 of valuation. 

The proposed school budget represents an increase of about $932,000, or 3.9 percent, over the current budget of just under $24 million. 

All councilors spoke in favor of the school budget last week, noting that, like many surrounding districts, Yarmouth’s budget is taking a hit from reductions in the state’s contribution. Projections show Yarmouth schools losing $489,000 – about a 10 percent decline, from about $4.6 million to $4.1 million.

Councilor Tim Shannon said the School Committee was “frugal” when crafting its proposal. 

“There are many unmet needs that were set aside,” he said. “I support this budget. I wish we had more to work with.”

Chairwoman Pat Thompson echoed Shannon’s statement, saying the council was always cognizant of how “painful” the end result can be for taxpayers.

“It isn’t the best … but it’s the best we could do,” she said. 

Some of the state aid losses will be offset because the state changed how it is funding vocational education: The district will no longer be paying tuition for local students to attend Portland Arts and Technology High School. As a result, Superintendent Andrew Dolloff’s budget proposal includes an 83.5 percent reduction in local Career and Technical Education funding of $108,000.

Dolloff stressed in his proposal that this did not mean the service would be eliminated, but it would simply be funded directly from the state. 

The majority of the budget is dedicated to “Priority I”, or “level services,” which allows the district to maintain its current level of services provided to a growing enrollment, which requires around $809,000 more than fiscal 2018.

A recent study projected enrollment at more than 1,950 in 2027, with an increase of more than 70 students for fiscal year 2019.

Positions added to address enrollment include a full-time second-grade teacher, part-time science, social studies, and English teachers at the high school, and coaching stipends, for a total of about $205,300.

The district is also considering an expansion and renovation of all four district schools, which could cost $32 million, and will likely go to a bond referendum in November. Committee member Tim Wheaton said the district is projecting the largest kindergarten class in 2018-19 they’ve ever had and will likely need to rent or lease a portable classroom at Rowe School, which he said was “out of space.”

“We feel we will have to add another kindergarten teacher next year in order to keep class sizes in a reasonable range,” he added.

Other drivers behind the annual increase in expenditures include negotiated employee salaries and benefits; increased staffing required to meet enrollment growth; anticipated increases in operational costs; updates to curriculum and technology; and a loss of state funding for professional development.

The district received approximately $17,000 in state funding for professional development over each of the past three years.

“Beginning in FY18, those funds were removed from the state budget, resulting in a $17,506 decrease in professional development funding at a time when we are already struggling to provide teachers and leaders with opportunities for improvement,” Dolloff wrote.

Another nearly $69,000 of the budget is attributed to changing demands – what Dolloff calls “Priority II.”

That cost includes expanding a part-time English Language Learner teacher to full time; adding a part-time K-12 ELL education technician; expanding a part-time K-4 social worker to full-time; adding a Pep Band instructor at the high school; and budgeting a stipend of around $1,000 for a student mental health coordinator at Harrison Middle School.

Strategic planning, or “Priority III,” accounts for the budget’s remaining $54,000, and reflects costs for the district’s five-year strategic plan adopted by the School Committee in fall 2015.

Recall provision

The council voted 4-2 April 26 to add the recall question to the ballot, where as a Town Charter amendment it must be ratified by voters. 

Consideration of the provision began after a petition signed by 500 residents circulated last fall following debate around a resolution drafted by Councilors Shannon, April Humphrey and David Craig condemning racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Throughout council discussion of the amendment to the Town Charter, all three councilors spoke out against both the provision and its timing. 

“I’m opposed to it because I think our Town Charter deserves a more thoughtful, careful approach than the rushed way in which the language for this amendment was developed,” Humphrey said last month. “… (and) because of the motivation of the organizers behind the petitioning effort that led to its consideration. Organizers of the petition drive that led to this charter amendment were clear that they were responding to what they felt was inappropriate behavior by me in relation to last August’s anti-racism resolution that I introduced along with Councilor Shannon.”

However, resident Deborah Delp, who wrote the petition, has continually responded to these claims to say the effort is not a “witch hunt” and people would see that if the provision is added.

Still, Humphrey closed her statements on April 12 by disputing this and asking voters to vote “no” on the referendum in June. 

“Don’t say that this charter amendment has nothing to do with the anti-racism resolution. The flyer accompanying the petition calling for this amendment specifically referenced that meeting in August as the cause for concerns addressed in the petition,” she said. “I am not saying that this town doesn’t necessarily need to have a recall provision in its charter. But not this amendment, not this way, not in response to an action to oppose racism.”

If enacted by voters, the provision, which mirrors one in Falmouth, would require a recall election after certification of supporting petitions with signatures from at least 20 percent of the town’s registered voters. A recalled councilor could still run as a candidate in a special or regular election to fill the remainder of their term.

Both the charter amendment and school budget ratification to to voters on June 12, a week after the annual Town Meeting on June 5. Also on the ballot will be the election of three School Committee members and two town councilors. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.