2015-07-31 / Front Page

Proposal receives board’s blessing

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

When Board of Education members went to the polls July 7, they asked citizens to reject the school budget because they thought it was too low. Voters overwhelmingly complied by rejecting the budget 3,584- 496, with roughly half of voters saying the budget was too low.

The Board of Education’s message for the third school budget validation, which takes place Tuesday, Aug. 4, is the complete opposite.

“Vote yes,” Board of Education member Christine Massengill urged voters. “Let’s pass the budget, please.”

That is not to say Massengill, or her fellow board members, are totally happy with how the budget turned out.

“I, too, will support this. It is a compromise. It provides tax relief for those concerned with that, but it also restores funds the supporters and parents were looking to be restored,” said Board of Education member Jodi Shea.

If the budget is passed next week, it would bring to an end a long budget season. The initial version of the school budget was presented in April, but Board of Education Chairman Donna Beeley said the work starts well before that. In November and December school principals begin meeting with their respective staffs. Voters have already voted on, and ultimately rejected, the budget twice this summer.

The latest version offers a compromise approach to budget reductions by cutting municipal spending by $180,000 and school spending by $250,000.

Chris Caiazzo, chairman of the Board of Education’s Finance Committee, said the amendment made by the council Wednesday, July 22, “returns half of the $500,000, which was cut from the school expenditures budget prior to the second referendum and increases school nontax revenue by the additional (general purpose aid) allocation recently approved by the state legislature.”

He said because of the $250,000 that is being returned to the budget, the Board of Education won’t have to cut a number of after school activities at Wentworth School, Scarborough Middle School and Scarborough High School or some middle school and high school athletic offerings. It also means the board will not have to reduce course reimbursement, teacher stipends, professional development and information technology contracted services by $70,000.

The $250,000 that is being cut from what was first proposed is possible by relying on staff turnover; reducing access to instructional resources; reducing police coverage at athletic games; limiting after-hours access to the intermediate, middle and high schools; limiting field trips to a short radius; relying on fewer repairs for buses and sharing a food service department with Cape Elizabeth schools.

Board of Education member Kelly Murphy said the budget, although far from ideal, is something the board can “live with.”

“I think it is a budget we can all get behind because it is relatively fair,” she said.

Fellow Board of Education member Jackie Perry supports the budget, but disagrees with Murphy. She said she thought the budget wasn’t fair.

“I will vote for this budget, but it is not enough. It is not what we need, but we will live with it,” she said.

Contrary to what many people have said over the last four months since the school budget was first presented in April, Beeley said the budget “was a lean budget to begin with.”

“It was lean back in April and became leaner every time we met after that,” she said.

Securing what they feel is a proper level of funding is a hard-fought battle for members of the Board of Education. Perry said she and her board do the best they can fighting for the children of Scarborough schools, something she will continue to do, if she is re-elected in November. One thing she wants to see reinstated is seventh-grade sports. They were eliminated last year due to budget constraints.

“That is going to be one of my goals, if I am on this board next year,” said Perry, who is seeking another term after her current term expires in November.

Caiazzo said he hoped the turnout that was seen in the July 7 referendum, in which 26 percent of the registered voters cast ballots, continues well beyond the Aug. 4 vote.

“I hope we can continue that momentum and continue the process to the November election and beyond. It is voter engagement that makes the difference,” he said.

One of his frustrations with the process is how few people follow the budget during its initial stages only to tune in at the last minute and question how the budget was drafted. No one questions Planning Board members, he said, when they say a parcel needs to be rezoned, but they are quick to question a school budget that board members are firmly behind.

The board’s challenge, he said, is to educate the Town Council and general public about, “what we do, how we do it and why we do it.”

That, he noted, will not be solved with this budget and will have to wait until work begins on fiscal year 2017 budget, which could soon begin to take place. Caiazzo said he and Shawn Babine, chairman of the Town Council Finance Committee, plan to have their respective groups meet in September to go over what went well with this budget and what did not, as well as hashing out some budget goals for next year.

“Hopefully we can get in a habit of meeting regularly,” Caiazzo said.

Doing so can only help. He said regardless of who is on the finance committees or in the chairmen roles in the future, if a good framework is set, the collaborative nature of the two groups will continue.

Beeley said it is “not a good thing to see (schools) declining” because lack of resources. The bottom line, she said, is the schools provide “a service to kids with needs and those needs have to be met.”

Perry said for next budget season, the Board of Education should produce a sheet of paper that includes what citizens need to know about the schools, such as the number of employees; square-footage of buildings; number of bus routes and miles traveled per day; and how much the district spends for staff development, utilities and insurance.

“It’s important that we make it as simple as possible for people,” she said.

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