SCARBOROUGH – The Board of Education decided Monday to add $100,000 to the school budget and ask the Town Council to use $100,000 to $200,000 in surplus to reduce the property tax burden on residents.

The board voted 6-0 in favor of the budget proposal. The council is expected to consider it for preliminary approval Monday and hold a public hearing and give final approval June 2.

A townwide referendum — the second on the 2010-11 school budget — is tentatively scheduled for June 8, the day of Maine’s primary elections.

Last week, voters rejected the $34.9 million school budget, which would have eliminated the equivalent of more than 31 full-time positions. The margin was only 10 votes — 493 opposed and 483 in favor.

The revised school budget would total $35 million. If the Town Council uses the surplus as requested, it will take about 2 to 5 cents off the property tax increase. Scarborough’s new rate would be in the range of $12.58 to $12.61 per $1,000 valuation, an increase of 3.5 to 3.8 percent.

Board Chairman Brian Dell’Olio said the revision represents middle ground by retaining teaching positions that were slated for elimination while minimizing the tax increase needed to pay for them.

The board did not decide which positions would be saved by the additional $100,000. Members decided to wait until they have a final bottom line.

Superintendent David Doyle submitted a list of suggestions that included a primary-grades consulting teacher, a resource room teacher at Scarborough Middle School, a custodian, part-time music, arts and physical education teachers at Wentworth Intermediate, a technology integrator, middle school arts teachers, teachers for gifted and talented students at the intermediate and high school levels, and a secretary at Wentworth.

The $100,000 would come from an account the schools maintain because their fiscal year doesn’t coincide with the teacher contract year. Because the board had previously taken $300,000 from the account, the total balance would fall to about $2 million.

The board faced the challenge of revamping the budget with input from only a small percentage of Scarborough’s voters. Only about 6 percent participated in last week’s budget validation referendum.

Those who did vote didn’t send a resounding message. On the ballot, 386 indicated that the budget was too high, 490 said it was too low, and 111 didn’t respond.

Board member Robert Mitchell said that while the budget debate brought out conflicting concerns about rising taxes and decreases to the school budget, neither sentiment was obviously stronger than the other. “None of them came out in droves,” he said.

Town Councilor Ronald Alhquist noted that he previously suggested using money from the town’s surplus to reduce the tax burden.

He said the proposal failed because of concerns about the effect on the town’s bond rating and worries that the money will be needed in the next budget, which is expected to be at least as difficult as this year’s.

Town policy now limits spending from surplus to about $540,000, according to Town Manager Thomas Hall.

Council Chairwoman Carol Rancourt said she doesn’t oppose the school budget validation concept, but the process needs improvement, especially because the time is so tight.

“One of the disappointing things is, very few people came out to vote,” she said. “I respect those votes absolutely, but it doesn’t give us a road map that’s easy to follow.”

The system will remain in place for at least three more years. Voters decided last week to retain the school budget validation referendum, by a vote of 774 to 206.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]