2015-07-24 / In the Know

A solution we can live with

An open letter to residents of Scarborough:

As the budget debate moves into the dog days of summer, everyone involved agrees that the ongoing budget debate is dividing our community.

We trust that residents want to move forward and are searching for a compromise that can at least partially satisfy all interests. It has been said that the mark of a good compromise is when everyone can live with the results, but no one is pleased with them. This is where the Town Council finds itself and offers the following compromise to put an end to this debate.

Many of the “No, Too Low” supporters believe that the outcome of the July 7 referendum vote was a resounding victory for the schools and that funding should be restored to the original amount. Congratulations to them for getting out the vote and extending this discussion for another round; however, the fact that on two referendum votes the “No, Too High” supporters consistently garnered half of the votes cast is a point that simply cannot be overlooked. Both sides can claim some level of victory and the town council must make sense of these results to move the community forward.

A majority of the town council believes that a reduction of the school budget request beyond $500K would do harm to the schools and so the town Council proposes maintaining an overall reduction in expenses by $500K, but through shared responsibility and accountability: $180K reduction from the municipal budget and a $320K reduction from the school budget.

This sharing of the reduced expenditures bears a proportional relationship to the size of the budgets, but more importantly we understand from the school administration that this level of reduction will not affect instructional quality.

Although not part of this discussion, it is important to note that the town council supported the high school laptop initiative as this single investment (though costly) will do more to advance curriculum and educational opportunity than anything in recent history. It is difficult for the town council to recommend a reduction of the municipal budget as it is generally viewed that the town has historically done a good job with its resources and kept budgets in check, but recognizes the importance of providing leadership and offering a meaningful solution.

The other important component of this proposal is providing for new revenues that have become available since the original adoption of the budget. Most notably, the school has learned that it will receive $884,891 more in General Purpose Aid than it expected (please keep in mind that even with these additional funds we are $133,206 below what was received last year).

The money will be received as a revenue in the school budget and will go to defray the cost for schools. If the money were in excess of what it costs to run Scarborough schools it may make sense to expand spending by a similar amount. However, the sad truth is that even with this additional funding, the GPA allocation only covers 10.7 percent of school costs. The final element relates to additional excise tax revenues in the amount of $200,000 that we are now comfortable including as town revenue. The effect of these revenues is that they serve to reduce the amount of money that would otherwise need to be raised through property taxes. At the end of the day, through reduced expenses and increase revenues, this proposal results in a total decrease of $1,584,891 (from the original budget) in the amount that needs to be raised through property taxes and produces a projected tax rate increase of 2.8 percent, while not affecting the students.

We hope the residents of Scarborough will join in embracing this solution. In collaboration with our school colleagues, we have made progress in making the process more transparent, but we recognize that further budget process improvements need to be made to avoid similar outcomes in the future.

It is time for us to come together, so please do your part to move Scarborough forward and vote yes on Aug. 4.

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