2013-05-24 / Front Page

Officials begin to rework budget

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The night the results of the school validation came in was a restless one for members of the Scarborough Board of Education.

Christine Massengill, chairman of the Scarborough Board of Education, said she was shocked when she heard late on Tuesday, May 14 that more than 58 percent of Scarborough voters rejected the $38.86 million education budget because it was too high.

She was not alone.

Town Councilor Judy Roy was also surprised with the result.

“For me, it wasn’t a true reflection of the general populous,” Roy said at the Town Council’s meeting Wednesday, May 15.

“It was an unexpected result, as far as I was concerned,” she added.

It was, however, not unprecedented. Scarborough voters rejected the budget by 10 votes in 2010, because residents did not feel it was high enough. A more robust budget was passed shortly thereafter.

Less than 10 percent of the registered voters in town voted in the May 14 referendum.

“There are a lot of people who support education in Scarborough. Unfortunately those weren’t the ones who came out (to vote),” Massengill said.

Superintendent George Entwistle said while the budget failed by a large margin, he did not see the result as an attack on the way education is delivered in Scarborough.

“I don’t take it as a vote against the schools, the efficiency or effectiveness of the schools,” Entwistle said. “I took it that though they were upset about the school budget, they were also unhappy about a lot of things and taxes in general.”

The message the vote sent to town officials was not lost on Ron Ahlquist, chairman of the Town Council.

“You can put a spin on it however you want, but I certainly heard the vote loud and clear that it was too high,” he said May 15.

Entwistle, the Board of Education, school leaders and members of the Town Council will spend the next few weeks coming up with a budget that everyone can support.

The Board of Education and Town Council have until June 28 to bring another budget before the voters at a second validation vote.

If a new budget is not approved by July 1 — the start of the new fiscal year — the 2012-2013 school year budget would remain in effect.

The Town Council’s finance committee was scheduled to meet with school board members Wednesday, May 22 at 8 a.m. to address the results of the referendum.

Massengill said she and her fellow board members are waiting to get guidance during that meeting before convening Thursday, May 23 at 6 p.m. to adopt a revised school budget for the 2013-2014 school year. The board voted 6-2 to recommend the budget is reduced by another $54,000. The council, however, may hold firm on reducing the budget to a not-more-than three percent spending increase. This would mean the budget would need to reduced by close to $400,000.

“We are looking to them to see what they are comfortable with,” Massengill said this week.

Massengill said she hopes the budget is not lowered too much more because if that happens programs, services and staff positions would be impacted. Entwistle is also steadfast in seeing the school budget remained intact.

“I suspect the budget will be adjusted, but I don’t know by how much. My preference would be zero,” said Entwistle.

The full Town Council is expected to address the revised budget for the first time at a special meeting, Wednesday, May 29 at 6 p.m.

The council will hold a public hearing and adopt the budget a week later during the regular Town Council meeting on Wednesday, June 5.

Voters will have a second chance to vote on the budget Tuesday, June 11 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots will be made available starting Thursday, June 6.

Although it was not the result he expected, Chris Caiazzo, chairman of the Board of Education’s finance committee, said lessons could be learned from the vote on May 14.

“If there was anything we learned from (the May 14 vote), is it we need to energize our base better,” Caiazzo said. “It’s easy for a small group that is organized and vocal to move an election.”

Massengill said a grass roots movement —Save Scarborough Schools — was set up on Facebook May 21 to advocate for the passing of the school budget.

“We need to get information out to the public,” Massengill said. “The board is discussing our communication strategy.”

As part of that communication with the public, Entwistle will create a list indicating what could be impacted if the budget were to be further reduced.

“Whatever we do, it is not too far before we deal with layoffs or the decrease or elimination of programs or services,” he said.

Continued investment in the schools, Entwistle said, will ensure the school district continues to improve and delivers quality education.

“We run a highly effective school system and we get pretty good results,” Entwistle said. “Just a little more investment would magnify those results. That is what I see and that is what my team is working towards. We are not giving up. We have 3,300 kids depending on us.”

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School budget timeline

May 29: First reading of the school budget by the Town Council, 7 p.m.

June 5: Public hearing and adoption of school budget by Town Council, 6 p.m.

June 11: Special election of school validation vote, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Town Hall. Absentee ballots available starting June 6.

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