Yarmouth residents organize to oppose proposed school budget

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YARMOUTH — An organized group of residents wants the Town Council to reject the budget proposed by the School Committee.

The budget proposed for fiscal year 2017 is $23.1 million, an increase of almost $1.1 million, or 4.97 percent.

Bruce Soule, of the group that calls itself the Yarmouth Tax Study Committee, said members will be at an April 14 public hearing to ask councilors to reject the budget. He said the group has about two dozen members, most of whom do not have children in the school system.

“(Spending) just continues to go up and we’re asking them to please stop,” Soule said. “We’re asking them to halt this in this economic climate.”

Because of a property revaluation taking place this spring,  the overall proposed town budget, which includes municipal and county assessments, would reduce the tax rate $3.08, or 14.29 percent, But the school assessment, because of an increase in state aid of more than half a million dollars, would rise 1.6 percent.

According to Soule, the committee has emailed 150 residents, asking them in turn to email councilors to tell them to reject the budget. The email also asked that people sign a petition that urges the council to say no to the budget.

Soule said the salaries and benefits portions of the proposed school budget, which make up 63 percent and 17 percent of the total, respectively, are too high. 

One of the biggest budget drivers is increasing enrollment, which has gone up 14 percent since 2010, but Soule said that  shouldn’t result in higher salaries.

Members of the Yarmouth Tax Study Committee have already expressed their concerns to the School Committee.

“They know who we are, what we’re about, and that there’s opposition to this,” Soule said.

Superintendent Andrew Dolloff said he hopes the group understands the factors that went into the budget increase, and that it’s the School Department’s job to make sure residents have correct information.

“It is always in a community’s best interest for citizens to become involved in these important discussions,” Dolloff said. “It’s our job to make sure they are well-informed, and I hope we will have the opportunity to make them aware of the unprecedented growth and diversification of our school population.”

Soule said the group cares about the schools and students, but the budget shouldn’t have to increase to provide quality education.

“We all believe we need a good education system and everyone in town should help pay for that, but they just keep increasing it,” he said.

Dolloff said he understands that “no one likes to see higher taxes,” but the proposed budget “results in minimal increases in local taxes, due in large part to a significant bump in state aid for our schools.”

A second public hearing on the budget will be held May 5, and the budget will also be discussed at the annual Town Meeting on June 7. A validation referendum is scheduled for June 14.

If the Town Council or residents reject the proposed budget it will be sent back to the School Committee for revisions.

Town Clerk Jennifer Doten said she doesn’t “recall this happening” in recent years in Yarmouth, where the school budget is usually approved as proposed.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.
  • Jane Gildart

    I’m not taking a position for or against the school budget, but I do want to state why a 5% increase might be concerning even if it translates into only a 1.6% tax increase this year.
    Budget growth in a given year yields an increased baseline in the following year.
    A future increase of X% adds up to more dollars if figured on a baseline of [2016 plus 5%] than it would if figured on a baseline of [2016 plus 1%].
    State funding is a variable beyond our control and could go up or down in the coming years. The baseline budget number is in our control, and deserves critical attention every year.
    It’s well known that salaries and benefits are something like 80% of the school budget. From what I understand, the recently negotiated teachers’ contract was bargained with sensitivity to the taxpayer. Kudos to all.
    The other variable in the salary and benefits line is the number of employees from year to year. Adding programs and permanent staff positions has the effect of ballooning the budget sooner or later. When a previous superintendent added 5 permanent positions to accommodate all day kindergarten, she pulled some money from other budget lines to minimize the effect on the bottom line in that particular budget cycle. However, the 5 positions are still around, and the ability to slide money from one budget line to that one has vanished with enrollment growth and other needs.

  • Bruce Soule

    I believe an important item that must be emphasized is that when the Town Council says No to the proposed budget, they also give the School Committee a goal – a number or a percentage increase that the Council would accept, and which would be acceptable to the majority of Yarmouth taxpayers. As I have stated, the Cost of Living Adjustment for Social Security payments is zero for 2016 (actually zero for three of the past seven years), and the Consumer Price Index rose only 1.4% in 2015. Some reasonable percentage increase would be acceptable. And in following years the increases could be tied to an accepted measure of economic prosperity or progress.