2015-07-31 / Letters

‘Fed up’ with divisiveness of school budget process

To the editor:

I am writing because I am fed up with how the school budget process has divided our happiest seaside town. I am afraid that the citizens of Scarborough are so concerned with fighting their fight that they aren’t seeing what the real issues are and who it is hurting.

I personally witnessed on the July 7 voting day, a couple in a convertible who drove by and blatantly flipped the bird to a group of middle school and younger kids holding signs to exercise their freedom of speech. It was a good lesson to the kids to rise above controversy and still continue to smile and wave, but I am just appalled that this happened in Scarborough.

In researching my voting decision, while reading some of the messages in the opposing side’s blog “Look out – Scarborough,” there was a post stating, “Well, what the heck is an academic life skill program anyway?”

You have to be kidding me. Making fun of kids with disabilities? It’s time to end this madness.

While I have sympathy for those on a fixed income who can’t afford to pay more taxes, I want my town council members to take a stand against this kind of bullying. The town council members have the power to set the tone for what this town stands for.

I think the results of the July 7 vote prove what the voters in this town stand for. More voters turned out for that referendum than any previous, so the July 7 “No, too low” results are a better representation of what Scarborough voters want as a whole for our school budget. I urge the council to honor that.

A strong school system creates a vibrant community with stable and increasing property values despite the overall economy. It is not reasonable for a group of citizens to use the, “Well, I don’t use the service and therefore I won’t fund it” mentality.

Say I never had to use the Scarborough EMS service, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have an obligation to pay for it. I have never had to use my car insurance, but state law says I need to pay for it. Under funding education will not be a part of my retirement plan, as I will be just as concerned as any other citizen what will happen to my property value if our school’s quality keeps dropping.

There must be a way to scrutinize the entire town budget as a whole without the scrutiny being just on the school budget year after year.

The concerned taxpayers of Scarborough would then get a chance to hold the town hostage over taxes to pay for the new beach signs vs. only the town’s spending on our children’s futures. I do think that the school budgeting process and how it is presented to the public can still be improved to match that of other towns, but that is going to take time and patience. Our school board is working hard to make those changes.

As a parent of three children in the school system, I am tired of worrying about the schools’ quality here, my property values declining and what will be cut next. I am tired of worrying whether or not I will have to send my three children to private school (which I can’t afford) or move elsewhere to preserve the most basic programs and activities for my children that I could access while I was growing up.

Also, I want voters to keep in mind that Scarborough has a proportionately very large population of special education students, mine being one of them. Federal and state funding dollars over the past few years have been declining as well for these students.

These children demand a lot of high level and costly services which is their right under IDEA. All children have a right to a free and appropriate public education under federal law. Families have flocked to Scarborough after hearing of the wonderful special education program we have here (which is a fact).

Our director received special education director of the year a few years ago. Providing an excellent base of early and extensive services in the least restrictive environment for these children will end up costing taxpayers more now, but less in the long run. Our town should be proud to serve this population. Increasing the diversity of our inclusive student population will elevate all.

I disagree with Mr. Hayes that we have an equally divided community. We all want lower taxes, just some of us are advocating in the wrong place. The real issue here is that the governor and state legislature have decided to shift costs to the local taxpayers.

The officials that we voted into office at the state level have decided that some of the more affluent communities such as Scarborough can bear the burden of this more than others.

Maybe it is because we didn’t have a strong enough voice in Augusta. Imagine if all the groups in town had banded together and used the energy they had been using to fight against the so called unreasonable school spending at the local level to fight for increased educational funding at the state level. The outcome may have been different. The money has to come from somewhere. Just because we get less money from the state doesn’t mean we should invest less money in our schools. Taking our investment away from a child’s future is not the right thing to do.

I hope our town Council vote will be for the children of Scarborough. Our schools can be the pride and center of our community instead of what divides us. It’s time to stop taking from our children and see that the real issues lie with the state officials we elected and how they are doing business. I know now more than ever that I need to do my due diligence in deciding very carefully whose campaign to support and to vote for in the next elections, locally and at the state level.

Lastly, I hope the Town Council will reconsider voting to use $500,000 of the additional $800,000 state aid that was granted and set aside by the state (earmarked for education) not for tax relief, but as educational dollars in order to return us to a level services budget.

The voters have spoken. It’s time to put an end to this bullying and this madness and return Scarborough to the happiest little seaside town I know and love.

A town where kindness and generosity to our neighbors, young and old, is at the forefront of all we do and stand for.

Cindy Parenteau

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