Yarmouth school budget wins voters' approval

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YARMOUTH — A $23.1 million school budget, which generated unprecedented debate, was approved by a nearly 2-1 margin Tuesday.

The fiscal 2107 budget, which passed 1,128-754, is an increase of almost $1.1 million, or 4.97 percent, over current spending.

Voters also approved continuing the budget referendum process for another three years by a vote of 1,076-715.

According to Town Clerk Jennifer Doten, the June 14 election attracted 27 percent of registered voters.

In elections for two seats on the School Committee, incumbent Leah Guay was re-elected and Anne Fleming won the other open seat. Guay received 1,176 votes, Fleming received 1,078, and Joan Dollarhite was third with 541 votes. School Committee member Bob Watterson did not seek re-election.

Incumbent Town Councilors Pat Thompson and Rob Waeldner, who were running uncontested, were re-elected to their seats. Thompson received 1,308 votes and Waeldner received 1,198.

William Taylor was elected by write-ins to the Water District Board of Trustees.

School Committee Chairman Tim Wheaton said he and the board are very pleased with the outcome of the budget referendum vote, especially considering how contentious the process was.

“We’re delighted by the outcome and delighted by the energy in the community in support of the schools,” he said. “We’re pleased we’ll be able to respond to the needs the school budget calls for in the next school year.”

Wheaton said it’s too early to start thinking about next year’s budget process, but he said the School Committee is aware of residents’ concerns.

“It’s probably premature to say with absolute certainty what changes would be made to how (the budget) is considered,” he said. “What I can say with confidence is that the School Committee is always looking to prioritize needs and separate needs from wants. We’re duty bound to provide for the needs of the schools while also being respectful to Yarmouth taxpayers.”

Bruce Soule of the Yarmouth Tax Committee, a group that actively opposed the budget and believed the tax burden would be too high, especially for those on fixed incomes, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Town Council on May 5 approved the school budget 5-1, with Councilor Pat Thompson opposed and Councilor Jim MacLeod absent. Residents then approved it 363-73 at the June 7 Town Meeting.

Superintendent Andrew Dolloff in February said the biggest driver in the budget is increasing enrollment. He said enrollment has gone up 14 percent since 2010, with almost 80 new students across the district’s four schools this year.

Guay, who is finishing her first term on the School Committee, said she is grateful to be re-elected.

“I am honored to be serving a second term on the School Committee and appreciate the voters’ support,” she said.

Guay, who worked in insurance for almost 30 years, has lived in Yarmouth for 25 years and has two children. She has been on the committee’s policy committee and is now the chairwoman of the finance committee.

Fleming, who has lived in Yarmouth for eight years, formerly worked as a lawyer and is now a stay-at-home mother of three. She volunteers in the schools, is the president of Village Nursery School, and is on the grants committee for the Yarmouth Education Foundation.

She said she is looking forward to being more involved by serving on the School Committee.

“Thank you to all who voted,” Fleming said. “I am excited to get started.”

Dollarhite remained positive after Tuesday’s loss.

“I’m disappointed I was not successful in my bid for School Committee, but I plan to continue to stay involved simply as a concerned citizen,” she said.

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.