SCARBOROUGH – The Scarborough Board of Education approved a new fiscal year budget of $42.8 million last week. While this is a reduction from the amount the school department originally requested, it still represents an increase in spending of $3.4 million.

The Town Council was scheduled to vote on the combined municipal and school budget of $57.8 million at its meeting on Wednesday, May 7, after the Current’s deadline.

Under the combined budget now on the table, taxpayers could be looking at an increase in the tax rate of 96 cents per $1,000 of valuation.

While the school board did reduce the amount it’s requesting for spending by $895,610 from Superintendent George Entwistle’s initial budget, it still represents a more than 8 percent increase in spending for the new fiscal year.

The Town Council could reduce the bottom line school budget this week before sending the spending package out to voters on Tuesday, May 13, for ultimate approval during a town-wide referendum. But, this week, Entwistle said he’s hopeful the council would not make any changes to the budget as approved by the school board on May 1.

“The school board and the Scarborough Schools Leadership Council have worked incredibly hard to develop a responsible and credible school budget that is also responsive to the needs of Scarborough students,” he said in defense of the proposed school spending.

Entwistle also called a joint workshop with the Town Council, held on April 30, “very encouraging” and said the meeting between the two boards was a chance to “exchange information and ideas, an opportunity to ask questions and to learn, and an opportunity for positive and constructive conversation.”

The superintendent also said the proposed school budget is focused on rebuilding staff and programs that were lost during the economic downturn of the past several years.

During the past five years, Entwistle said, more than 40 positions were cut from the schools.

“In these last few budgets, we have begun to rebuild essential academic programs that took the brunt of the reductions,” he said. “The investments and restorations have been made in small incremental steps and this budget continues to rebuild and strengthen world languages, technology, student safety, guidance, (math, engineering and sciences) art and music.”

Entwistle also said that while the proposed budget represents a rebuilding, it “still does not restore the schools to the staffing levels of 2009-2010.”

In terms of getting people to the polls on Tuesday to vote on the school budget, Entwistle said, “Advancing the quality of education in Scarborough serves the best interests of all community members.”

He added that, “There is an undeniable and direct link between the performance of the local schools and the health of the local economy. Supporting the investments and restorations that are included in the (new fiscal year) school budget is one of the best ways to invest in a healthy and vibrant Scarborough community and local economy.”

In approving the school spending package last week, members of the school board said they were disappointed there was not more investment in staff, programs and technology in this budget, even though it calls for more than 10 new positions.

Long-time school board member Jacquelyn Perry said, “I want everybody to understand where we are (with this budget). We are not making as much progress as we would like. This is not even really progress, it’s treading water.”

And Christopher Caiazzo, chairman of the school board’s finance committee, called the budget “incremental progress” and said his committee made “very tough and very difficult decisions” in terms of what to include and what to take out.

School board member Kelly Murphy agreed with Perry and said with this budget Scarborough schools are “still way behind” where they should be.

“This budget has no fluff,” she added. “This is the bare minimum needed to keep things ticking along. It’s all essential and not nearly enough. Our kids are absolutely missing out.”

Other members of the school board also expressed their disappointment that this budget doesn’t do more and said that while they are proud of Scarborough students and teachers, they wish more could be done to support the schools.

School board member Jane Leng seemed to sum up the feelings of the entire board when she said a lot of hard work has gone into this budget and now the schools need the support of the community in passing the budget during next week’s referendum.

See for an update on the Town Council’s action on the combined budget.

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