June 13, 2013

Majority of Maine school budgets approved

But districts won't know how their numbers really add up until state aid figures are finalized.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Most local school budgets that went to votes Tuesday passed by comfortable margins, despite the uncertainty of how much state revenue districts will get and how property taxes could be affected.

Voters also resoundingly favored continuing the school budget validation process – a question they're asked every three years.

Now, districts are left to see how close their budgeted revenue from the state matches the money they actually get, once the Legislature approves a budget.

Most districts accounted for a shift in retirement costs from the state to the school departments, as proposed by Gov. Paul LePage.

The latest budget to come out of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee, however, proposes to give that money back to schools.

The state Department of Education is recommending that districts consult with legal counsel to figure out whose approval they'll need if they have to adjust their budgets for additional revenue -- or an additional expense.

Some districts, like Scarborough, aren't prepared for the worst. After the school board budgeted for the retirement cost shift, the Scarborough Town Council removed the money, saying it was only a potential expense.

At the same time, voters in Scarborough approved their school budget by a narrower margin than those in other communities Tuesday. And that's after they rejected it in an initial vote in May.

Although voters were willing to spend money on their schools, they weren't as open to paying for other proposed expenses, including a high school renovation in Freeport and a public safety building in Gorham.

Overall, voter turnout was low everywhere Tuesday, especially where the school budget was the only issue on the ballot.

Still, voters were emphatic that they wanted to continue to validate their school budgets, a practice that began after the implementation of former Gov. John Baldacci's school reorganization plan.

The first time voters were asked if they wanted to continue the practice was in 2010. They'll vote again in 2016.


Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: lbridgers@pressherald.com


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