2013-06-07 / Front Page

Pro-budget crowd turns up volume

After school spending plan was voted down, reaction is swift
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Members of the Board of Education scolded parents at the May 23 school board meeting for being apathetic about the school budget by not voting in the school referendum Tuesday, May 14 and pointed to the lack of parental turnout as the reason the budget failed to pass 898-643.

Last week, it was a different story. A standing room-only crowd of parents and school supporters came in full force to defend school spending and implore the Town Council to not make further cuts to the bottom line of the school district’s $38.8 million budget.

Board of Education member Kelly Murphy said at the May 29 meeting that cutting into the budget “short changes our school system, is short-sided and takes years to recover from.”

“I have seen what the school budget should be and I have seen that budget shrink week after week,” she said.

Dave Dittmer, a Scarborough resident, said such cutting has to stop.

“We have to hold the line here. You have to hold the line here,” he told members of the Town Council during the public comment session of the council’s meeting on Wednesday, May 29. “The schools are too important. The budget needs to pass. It needs to be passed so the town can move forward,” Dittmer said.

Several parents, including William Bly, shared stories with the Town Council about their students not having the supplies and educational materials needed due to inadequate funding.

“My wife constantly purchases small school supplies for teachers at Eight Corners (Primary School),” Bly said. “That is part of being a parent, but it is also indicative of the state of the school system.”

Derek Volk, a father of four children ranging from 9 to 22 years old, said his 14-year-old daughter’s class shares three textbooks – that date to 2003 – in her science classroom at Scarborough Middle School.

He said he is worried this trend will continue and his youngest daughter won’t have the same educational opportunity her older siblings did.

“I am very worried my 9-year-old won’t receive the same education my 19- and 22-year-old did,” Volk said.

Several parents who spoke said if the schools continue to lack the funding they need to properly prepare students for the future they may be forced to rethink their decision to live in Scarborough.

Tom Michaud is not a parent, but understands the value education has in a community like Scarborough.

“Schools are the core of a community. If we continue to underfund education, the parents will go elsewhere. There are other options in southern Maine,” he said.

Adults, however, were not the only group that had concerns about the budget and what it could mean for the future of Scarborough education. The Town Council heard from several students, including Mia Goulder, a fourthgrade student at Wentworth Intermediate School, who worried what the budget might do to offerings such as music and art. In March, one of Goulder’s pieces of art was chosen to be displayed in the Portland Museum of Art as part of National Youth Art Month.

“If you cut library, art or music, you will also be cutting off kids’ talents, like mine,” Goulder said in a letter read by her mother Kerry. “I feel that you should not cut off subjects from Scarborough schools.”

“Our kids dream big,” Kerry Goulder said while Mia and her sister Elliot looked on from the audience. “What do we tell them when the budget gets cut? Get new dreams? When you cut the education budget, you cut their dreams.”

Alec Leng, an eighth-grade student at Scarborough Middle School, told the Town Council that he has collected 150 signatures from students who support the school budget as it stands now.

“As you can see, we have overwhelming support for a school budget with minimal cuts,” Leng said.

Funding education is more expensive now than it ever was, said Jeff Ertman.

“Today the costs to keep kids competitive has gone up incredibly,” Ertman said. “We can’t hope to enhance our children’s future without investing in them now.”

“Education is one of the best gifts we can give our children and to put a price tag on the future of our children is scary,” said Doug Bennett, a 1987 graduate of Scarborough High School.

Jeff Porter, who has children in first and fourth grade, said the budget is a “revenue-short budget, not an expenditure-rich budget.” Porter said the district “strives to be first rate, but suffers from third-rate funding” as well as a lack of consistency in teachers, basic supplies and proper technology and transportation systems.

“This is an underfunded, dismantling and crumbling budget that needs our support,” Porter said.

Residents will have another chance to vote on the budget Tuesday, June 11, when the town holds a second school budget validation vote. Polls in the Council Chambers will be open that day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots must be returned by the time polls close.

Paul Koziell, who has children in kindergarten and sixth grade, said there is no way everyone will be happy with the budget that appears before them on the validation ballot.

“A budget takes compromise and is supposed to cause people to be reasonably unhappy. The budget represents a lot of compromise by a lot of people and can’t afford any more cuts,” Koziell said.

Dave Green, a resident of Beech Ridge Road who was the only person who spoke against increasing the school budget, said the school budget is being cut is somewhat misleading. He said the budget is not being cut, but rather increased. What is being cut is that increase, Green said. Last May, voters approved a $37.4 million budget by less than 100 votes.

“Don’t ask me to raise my taxes,” he said in his brief remarks. “I am going to ask you to reach for your checkbook, for $100, for $500 and make a donation (to fund education).”

Bob Mitchell, a former member of the Board of Education, supports the budget, but agrees with Green that additional donations are needed to fund education in Scarborough. He said there are many additional ways to support the budget, including donating to the Scarborough Education Foundation, a group that was started in 2011 to help fund projects and initiatives that fell outside the parameters of the traditional school budget.

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