2013-04-26 / Front Page

Budget numbers accepted

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The Scarborough Board of Education adopted a $39.63 million budget for the 2013-2014 school year, but it was nearly unanimous among board members that the spending was not enough to fully prepare Scarborough students for the future.

Chris Caiazzo, the board’s finance committee chairman who made a motion to adopt the budget, said the figure was a reduction from the $41.3 million budget Scarborough Superintendent George Entwistle originally presented to the board March 13.

Entwistle said the fiscal year 2014 budget strikes a balance between not losing the educational improvements the district has made in recent years and “making the most minimal demand on community resources” as possible.

He pointed out it also comes close to meeting the expectation the Town Council set for the town budget, which includes both educational and municipal spending. That goal was to limit overall spending increases to no more than 3 percent over what was approved for the current budget.

“The 3 percent increase was extremely challenging, but it was a challenge we embraced,” Entwistle said. “This budget come as close as we can to that target without stepping back with those improvements.”

Entwistle said the overall $71.45 million town budget, which includes municipal, education and county spending, marks a $3.12 million, or 3.97 percent increase over the current $ 68.72 million budget.

The education budget was reduced by $2.18 million and the increase in spending was reduced from 10.28 percent to 5.61 percent.

“I will vote for the budget tonight, even though I feel it is less than we need,” said school board member Jackie Perry. “I hope the community does as well, so our students can face the future with some of, but not all of, the tools they need to be successful.”

The public will have a chance to vote on the school budget through a town-wide validation vote scheduled to take place from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 14 at the Scarborough Municipal Offices.

Perry’s fellow board member, John Cole, agreed that the budget was underfunded and encouraged members of the community who felt the same way to come to the polls on May 14.

Many of the people who spoke during a public hearing on both the education and municipal budget Wednesday, April 10, voiced their desire to add more money to the school budget.

“We give (teachers and educators) the responsibility of educating our children, but we don’t give them enough money,” Jane Leng said at the hearing. “You are putting them between a rock and a hard place.”

Debra Ertman agreed education spending should be increased.

“I am hoping the Town Council looks at the budget this year and realizes keeping the school budget the way it is, or a slight increase, isn’t enough,” she said.

Others, however, felt the educational spending was out of control and needed to be reeled in.

The Town Council has the authority to approve or not approve the school district’s bottom line budget number as part of its review of the overall municipal budget, but does not have the ability to make changes to individual items in the budget.

Through the validation vote — a state requirement — voters have the power to reject the education budget after it is passed by the council.

Kelly Murphy, chairman of the board’s policy committee, said she hoped the budget gets the community support it needs to pass at the polls. Last year’s $37.4 million budget was approved by fewer than 100 votes.

“It’s disappointing,” Murphy said of the fact the budget was pared down from Entwistle and the district’s Leadership Council’s original figure. “It is not enough money to do what we need to do for our kids.”

Perry said while the budget is less than she would ideally like to see, it maintains the offerings and restores staffing and programming that had been lost in previous budget years. She added it also ensures the department does not fall further behind other nearby school districts.

“This budget means we will not fall further behind,” Perry said. “We have the lowest per-pupil cost of any district in the area. We have the lowest administration cost for any district in this state.”

Donna Beeley, who joined the board along with Caiazzo in December, said the budget process was not an easy one, in large part due to a move by Gov. Paul LePage to reduce general purpose aid to schools and shift costs from the state to municipalities.

“I will be voting for it, but I do so with a heavy heart because I feel it is not enough to move (education) forward ” Beeley said.

Aside from the $39.6 million operating budget, the Board of Education also approved a $1.97 million capital improvement budget.

A big chunk of the capital improvement budget is for $550,000 in proposed improvements to school security and access management. The projects, which stem from recommendations from the recently created Health, Safety and Security Committee, include redesigning entry ways at the primary schools and middle school; securing the primary school playground area; installing new primary school generators and connecting the high school cafeteria and Alumni Gym to the school wide intercommunication system.

A number of other facility improvements have been deferred to future budget years.

Other capital expenses for fiscal year 2014 include $316,000 for three new school buses; $50,000 to replace the middle school heating system; $50,000 for exterior paint and trim work on the primary schools; $84,000 for districtwide roof restoration and $971,537 for technology improvements across the district.

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