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.