2013-06-07 / Front Page

Scarborough Town Council approves school budget

Budget is $54,000 less than the one voters rejected last month
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

After two meetings that featured numerous requests from school budget supporters to not cut further into the $38.8 million budget and from residents concerned about how such spending would affect their tax bills, the Town Council, on Wednesday, June 5, approved the school’s revised spending plan and send it to a town-wide vote.

Voters will head to the polls Tuesday, June 11 to weigh in on the latest version of the budget.  This is the second time the school budget has gone before voters. On Tuesday, May 14, 58 percent, or 898 of the 1,541 voters who cast a ballot, rejected the budget. Nearly 60 percent of voters felt the school budget was too high.

To help find a figure residents could support, on Wednesday, May 23, the Board of Education reduced the budget $54,000 by delaying future instruction and curriculum improvement efforts; deferred updating library system software to check materials in and out of school libraries and eliminate stipends and supplies for clubs and activities at Scarborough Middle School and Scarborough High School.

Superintendent George Entwistle, at the request of the Town Council, prepared a list of additional cuts should the budget need to be pared down more. Such cuts included the elimination of positions; reorganization of central office staff; across-the-board reductions to co-curricular and athletic programs at the high school; elimination of after-school clubs at Wentworth Intermediate School and athletics at the middle school and the elimination of student transportation to practices.

“Any more cuts to the budget will have dramatic affects to the schools, education and most importantly and, unfortunately, our students,” Board of Education Chairman Christine Massengill told councilors.

Lisa Douglas, a Scarborough parent who also works in the Scarborough school system, said funding education takes money and resources.

“I’ve spent a lot of the year in New Hampshire and Massachusetts looking at how other schools offer educational programming,” Douglas said. “What other districts are doing is amazing. What Scarborough is doing is amazing, but we have a ways to go and that will cost us money.”

Cuts to this year’s budget could have lasting effects said Jeff Porter, of Cumberland Way. Porter said prior to the meeting he spoke with 10 high school dropouts from nearby communities. The young adults told him they dropped out of school because of cuts to art, music, technical education and hands-on-learning opportunities, elimination of support staff such as school counselors and the lack of elective courses.

“The hook just wasn’t there for them anymore,” Porter said. “When I start looking at the proposed cuts, I start seeing the themes that gravitate to what some of these kids were saying.”

Leah Kane, who has a son entering high school next school year, said imposing additional cuts won’t properly prepare her son for his post-high school dream of becoming a dentist.

“I think the students are being punished if you do this. It is not their fault,” said Kane, who voted against the budget because it was too low.

Paula O’Brien, a Scarborough parent who has had children in the Scarborough school system for the past 23 years, said although the school budget failed to pass last month, it does not mean the general Scarborough population does not support the school system.

“The no against the budget was not a vote against the kids. It was against the huge property tax increase again. The almost 24 percent increase over the last four years is more than many people can afford,” said O’Brien, a Scarborough High School graduate.

Oceanwood Drive residents Martin Tripp and Jack Kelley agreed that the impact to taxes might be too much for residents to handle.

“You have to have some consideration for those who are willing, or can’t afford these tax increases,” Tripp said.

Both sides of the argument resonated with Town Councilors, who were somewhat split on how to proceed with the budget. Seconds after Councilor Judy Roy motioned to put the $38.8 million budget out to voters, Town Councilor Ed Blaise attempted to amend the motion to reduce the school budget by another $788,458 — the difference between the proposed salaries for educators in fiscal year 2014 and the approved amount of salaries for the current school year.

Doing this, Blaise said, would not impact students.

“If you cut salaries and tell all the teachers and administrators to forgo salary increase, you are not impacting any programming whatsoever, so the kids should be fine,” Blaise said.

The proposal only got the support of Councilor James Benedict.

“Although it sounds easy, it is not,” Roy said. “The majority of employees in the school district are in unions and bargaining groups.”

Roy added that “unilaterally reducing salaries without collective bargaining” would be against good labor practices.

During the councilor comment period of the meeting and after the council chamber had emptied, Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist said Blaise “wasn’t off the mark” with his amendment.

“He made some very valid points that we are going to need to address,” Ahlquist said.

Ahlquist went on to say he fears the school and municipal budget processes won’t be any easier in the coming years.

“I worry about how we are going to fund education and municipal (budgets). I think we need to think outside the box,” Ahlquist said.

Before that happens, however, town officials are focused on this school budget passing.

Polls on June 11 will be open at the municipal offices from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots are available through the Town Clerk’s office and must be returned by the time polls close on June 11.

 

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