2014-05-09 / Front Page

School budget ready for vote

Residents will decide at the polls Tuesday, May 13
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

After months of deliberations, the members of Board of Education approved a $42.8 million operating budget last week they hope will get the support of the general public, who will be taking to the polls to weigh in on the school spending plan Tuesday, May 13.

The school department is asking residents to foot $36.9 million, a $2.3 million – or 6.8 percent increase – from the tax request for the current budget.

Before voters cast their ballots, the Town Council will review the budget. The group is expected to finalize the overall town budget — which includes the school budget — Wednesday, May 7, after the Leader’s deadline. The council only has the power to change the bottom line of the school budget, not individual budget items.

Councilors and residents alike have been critical of the school budget, arguing it is too high and places too much burden on the taxpayers. Such comments have not fallen on deaf ears.

“We worked very, very hard to balance the needs of the school with the needs of the town,” said Chris Caiazzo, chairman of the Board of Education’s finance committee.

Heeding the concerns of the council to curtail spending, Caiazzo and his fellow finance committee members, Christine Massengill and Jane Leng, were able to find more than $895,000 in savings to lower the tax request, including a $500,000 reduction in expenditures, $235,000 in investments and program restorations, $139,480 in budget adjustments.

The cuts don’t come without an impact to education, however. Included in the investment and program restorations was an effort to restore 14 of the 25 positions cuts since fiscal year 2010. With the reduction, Caiazzo said the equivalent of only 10 positions are restored

Board member Jackie Perry said she was disappointed to see so many of those positions still not restored.

“This is not really progress. This is not really treading water. This is still staying behind. That is a little frustrating,” she said.

The cost of restoring what was lost between fiscal year 2010 and now, Perry said, is just going to get more expensive.

“Every year we don’t take that step, it will cost more,” Perry said, adding the longer it takes to get to the previous staffing level, the “more precarious we are as a community.”

Her fellow board member, Donna Beeley, agreed.

“The things that are before us should have been satisfied years ago,” she said.

Last year the public voted on the school budget twice. The first time was in May, when 58 percent rejected the $38.8 million request, many arguing it was too high. The board went back to the drawing board and reduced the budget by $54,000.

On June 11, 53 percent voters approved the budget, although many still felt the budget was too robust.

Board member Kelly Murphy said what is included in this year’s budget is “absolutely essential.”

“This budget has no fluff. There is nothing extra in here. This is the bare minimum to keep things ticking along,” she said. “Our kids are losing out every single year we don’t invest in technology, infrastructure and bringing back programs that were cut four years ago.”

While some may feel educational spending in Scarborough is too high, Massengill said many schools in the area are investing in their students better than Scarborough is.

“We don’t even fund our schools at the state average, which is sad to say. Not funding our schools at the state average is tough to swallow,” she said.

While the board ended up approving a reduced school budget, no changes were made to the $1.7 million in capital improvement projects from the time Superintendent George Entwistle first presented the budget in March to now.

The budget includes, among other things, advancing technology districtwide; improving security and roofing across the district’s six schools; updating lighting at the high school; replacing the heating system at the middle school and replacing cheering and wrestling mats. The budget also includes replacing three school buses.

Polls are open at town hall Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots are currently available from the Town Clerk’s office.

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