2015-06-19 / Front Page

Another school vote set for July 7

Public hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 24 at town hall
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The town will work quickly to make changes to the school budget in hopes of getting a budget in place as close as possible to July 1, the beginning of fiscal year 2016.

The Town Council on Wednesday, among other things, set the second school validation vote for Tuesday, July 7 and had initial discussions about how to pare down the budget to a level voters are more comfortable with. At the first validation vote, held Tuesday, June 9, 55 percent of the 3,127 voters rejected the budget. More than 1,760 (56 percent) of voters thought the budget was too high. It was the third straight year the budget did not initially pass.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Wednesday, June 24 at 7 p.m. at town hall.

The council is expected to make a final decision that evening as well. According to state law, the Town Council must submit a revised budget to voters between 10 and 45 days from June 9.

The validation will be held Tuesday, July 7 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at town hall. There had been some talk about having the vote on June 30, but Town Councilors felt that schedule was too rushed.

“There was some concern that there was not enough time for media coverage, voters to be informed and it left very little time for absentee voting,” said Town Manager Tom Hall. Moving back the validation vote by a week will allow voters more than a week to cast absentee ballots (June 25 to July 2). On the Friday and Monday prior to school validation, only voters who have special circumstances will be allowed to vote absentee. Special circumstances include individuals who will be out of town the day of the vote or those who are prevented from voting in person due to illness or disability.

Superintendent George Entwistle said come July 1, the school district will operate under the budget that the Town Council approved May 20 and will continue doing so until a fiscal year 2016 budget is passed by voters.

“We will still have an operating budget. We will still be able to fill positions that are vacant throughout the summer,” Entwistle said.

Donna Beeley, chairman of the Board of Education, was disappointed the budget, which called for $39.1 million from taxpayers, did not pass earlier this month.

“The school leaders and board put together a very lean budget, particularly on the side of any new school improvement efforts,” said Beeley.

The education improvement plan, which was taken out of the 2014-2015 school year budget, included $335,842. The bulk of that — $180,750 — is for special education to increase classroom support, improve access to physical therapy and reduce disruptive behaviors in the classroom.

Between the first proposal of the budget on April 1 to May 21, when the Board of Education finalized its budget based on the Town Council’s decision, total school spending was reduced from $45.2 million to $43.7 million. The gross operating budget is $1.7 million more than this year. The net budget, which takes into account revenue streams, marks a $3 million increase over what voters approved last year.

Beeley said she and her Board of Education colleagues are taking a waitand see approach to determine how to reduce the school budget.

“It has the potential to result in reductions in education for the students in Scarborough,” she said.

Superintendent George Entwistle said at the June 4 Board of Education meeting that reducing the budget further would set the district back.

“Our progress has been good. We have been moving forward, but virtually at a snail’s pace,” he told board members. “Anything that doesn’t keep us moving forward will cause us to stall and the process will stall.”

He called the budget that voters rejected June 9 “very reasonable and responsible.”

“It’s a budget that makes sense, not just for our schools, but for the people of this community,” he said.

Beeley said she was optimistic the budget would pass when she heard how many absentee ballots had been cast in advance of the vote, but was ultimately disappointed with the result.

“What was so great this year was, we were moving forward so well with the council and attempting to be as transparent as possible and getting those questions addressed at the town forum and putting the answers online,” Beeley said.

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