2017-08-18 / Letters

Writers weigh in on education issues

To the editor:

I want to make three points about the Scarborough school budget before the next vote on Sept. 5.

1. Many residents have stated that they would like the school budget to be under 3 percent. The fact is that the school budget was presented at 2.89 percent. The 6.80 percent is the due to the additional funds required to cover the state reduction to education funds coming to Scarborough.

Your vote for Rep. Sirocki, Rep. Vachon and Sen. Volk have consequences. They have been supporting the LePage agenda which continuously takes away education funds for municipalities.

The Maine Education Association (MEA) ranks all legislators based on their support for education. Rep. Sirocki, Rep, Vachon and Sen. Volk rank as 19 percent, 42 percent and 40 percent, respectively, out of potential 100 percent in support of education.

Scarborough has lost $1.7 million in state and $3.3 million in state and federal combined in education funds during the Le Page administration with $1.4 million lost for 2018.

2. The tax rate for Scarborough for fiscal year 17 was $15.92. Compare that with a sample of our surrounding communities of Old Orchard Beach $15.46, Cape Elizabeth $17.54, South Portland $17.70, Gorham $17.00, Westbrook $18.40 and Falmouth $15.09.

The average of all the surrounding communities is $17.58. That’s $1.66 higher than Scarborough. Projected fiscal year 18 for Scarborough will be approximately $16.30 depending on the next vote and the final property valuations. The average of all the surrounding communities for FY18 is $18.35, again much higher than we are estimated to be.

3. Property values and the town’s economy are boosted by strong schools. People choose towns based on their school systems. It’s the core of the town even if you do not have any children in those schools. When schools decline, some people choose to move away. Businesses that come to a thriving community help our tax base but will also leave if the economy of the town suffers.

Think hard before you vote. The council reduced the school budget by another $50,000 on Aug. 2. Please support this budget on Sept. 5.

Marj DeSanctis

To the editor:

While Scarborough’s taxpayers focus on whether a $50,000 reduction is too high or too low for the third school budget referendum, consider the situation from a higher level.

The town recently shared a table of property tax mil rates from surrounding communities. Scarborough appears competitive, but the associated town debt per resident was not shared.

Our town is at nearly $5,000 per person. This is not a favorable category in which to lead. For most peer communities we are multiples above their debt per person level. When the town holds significant debt, the buying power of our tax dollar is decreased. Presently, about 12 percent of every incoming tax dollar is applied to debt service.

A $50,000 change on the school budget takes the overall property tax mil rate from 3 percent to 2.9 percent.

Now consider the amount within the fiscal year 2018 combined budget that falls into the capital category which necessitates debt. The sum is over $6 million in this budget.

If these capital items were instead moved to the operating expenses of the school and municipal segments our overall mill rate would increase from 3 percent to about 11 percent.

As a community we are far too dependent upon debt.

Often, the claim is made that our budget problems are the result of the state of Maine underfunding our school system.

The distribution formula is heavily influenced by two factors. Scarborough’s student enrollment has been declining while the town’s valuation has been increasing.

Neither situation is beneficial to funding allocation.

The taxpayers continue to argue the rate of growth of the school budget and the overall influence on property taxes.

In a recent town council meeting Peter Hayes pushed for a commitment to consider a process change relative to developing the budget. The suggestions of multi-year financial planning, independent operational efficiency analysis, early cycle citizen input, and segmental budget targets were rejected by the majority of the town council.

Until the town leadership considers and commits to a process change, I believe our challenges will deliver the same annual ballot box frustration for so many.

John Frazier

To the editor:

On Sept. 5, Scarborough will vote for the third time on the school budget for the coming school year.

The town council recently gave initial approval to a $50,000 reduction in the school budget that voters reject- ed on July 25.

If that reduction is finalized by the council on Aug. 16, it will mean $42,491,000 of taxes will be raised for the schools, a 6.7 percent increase over last year’s budget.

Since the budget rejected on July 25 called for a 6.8 percent increase, it will be interesting to see whether this minimal reduction will be enough to sway voters to approval.

The most distressing part of the current budget debate is that it once again fails to address the issue at the heart of these annual conflicts.

Over the past few years, Scarborough’s share of state education aid has fallen significantly. But rather than attempt to restrain costs, the schools have actually added new programs and positions each year, calling them investments.

Local taxpayers have been forced to absorb the burden of the widening gap between reduced state revenues and increased school operating expenses. Thus the 6.7 percent increase in school taxes currently being proposed.

Now for the really bad news. The fiscal 2019 school budget will very likely require an even larger increase in taxpayer funding than the one we are debating now. That’s because the $2.1 million of reserves that the schools are using as revenue in this year’s proposed budget will be spent and not available next year.

Once again the schools will need to look to the taxpayers to make up a significant revenue shortfall.

Town and school leaders have stubbornly refused to make any projections of the school budget for fiscal 2019.

Now you know why. As bad as the currently proposed budget is, the budget for fiscal 2019 will probably be worse. It’s time for the town council to address the real issue.

Steve Hanly

To the editor:

I am disappointed that Scarborough’s legislators voted against keeping children in child care safe.

Both Karen Vachon and Heather Sirocki voted against LD274, ”An Act to Implement Recommendations of the Working Group to Study Background Checks by Child Care Facilities and Providers.”

The fingerprinting requirement is the result of the federal Child Care Development Block Grant that was reauthorized in 2015. CCDBG’s reauthorization includes enhanced health and safety requirements for child care providers including the requirement for fingerprinting.

In fact, fingerprinting is the only requirement in the bill that comes with a penalty if not followed, which would result in Maine receiving $800,000 less in funding. CCDBG funding covers the costs of licensing, training and professional development, and the entire infrastructure of Maine’s child care system.

This loss would be devastating.

Currently, providers and teachers must have state bureau of investigation and child protective background checks. The addition of the fingerprinting requirement, similar to all public school personnel, provides criminal background information on people from out of state.

This is a good thing, and probably one that parents assume is already happening. So who would object to making sure perps from out of state don’t work with our youngest children?

One argument has been the cost. However, the state can use the federal CCDBG funds to help providers pay for the background checks.

Another argument has come from family child care providers who care for children in their homes who don’t want those who are unsupervised with children to be fingerprinted.

Personally, I believe that these are the exact people who should have this background check because family child care providers are more isolated than center-based providers.

The good news is that this bill did not die in committee, but is being held over.

One of the amendments being considered is for family child care providers to apply for a hardship waiver. If the federal money covers the approximately $55 one-time cost for providers, what kind of hardship is there?

If this bill does not pass in the next session, Maine will be one of the only states that does not fingerprint their child care providers. This will invite perps from other states to move to Maine.

Please contact Scarborough’s representatives and ask them to approve fingerprinting for child care providers and all who have unsupervised contact with young children.

The safety of our youngest children should not be a partisan issue.

Lori Moses

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