The Scarborough Town Council offers a $43.4 million school-spending package that faces voters Aug. 4.

Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall said this week he hopes the Town Council can “deliver a solution (on the school budget) that the majority can support.”

The council was set to hold a special meeting on Wednesday, July 22, after the Current’s deadline, to finalize a $43.4 million school-spending package that would go to voters on Aug. 4.

It will be the third time that residents will vote on a proposed school budget. On both June 9 and July 7, voters rejected budgets. The first time they said the $43.8 million budget was too high and the second time school supporters said the $43.3 million proposal was too low.

With unanticipated additional revenue on both the school and town side, Hall said, residents could see a 2.8 percent increase in the tax rate, or 43 cents per $1,000 of valuation, if voters approve the new school budget next week.

Now that the state budget has been finalized, Hall said, Scarborough is anticipating receiving an additional $884,891 in state aid to education, which would be used to offset the amount needed from taxpayers to support school costs. In addition, the town is now expecting to get $200,000 more in excise tax receipts.

This nearly $1.1 million in new revenue means that increased spending in both the municipal and school budgets would be under the 3 percent cap a majority of councilors said they could support early on in the budget process.

“We may not be able to satisfy everyone, but our options are few at this point,” Hall said this week.

But, heading into Wednesday’s special meeting, it appeared that both sides of the school-spending debate were still entrenched in their positions.

On Monday, Stacey Neumann, a spokeswoman for the Supporters of Scarborough Schools group, said that while “we are anxious to pass a budget that can benefit our schools and community as a whole, we will not support the amended budget that was proposed at the (July 15 council) meeting.”

Last week, the council agreed to lessen an initial reduction in school spending from $500,000 to $320,000.

“Such a large deficit will impact our children’s education and will continue to damage our school system and community,” Neumann said.

She said Supporters of Scarborough Schools “hopes the town agrees to more properly fund the schools at the second reading on Wednesday night.”

Donna Beeley, chairwoman of the Board of Education, agreed. She said school board members are “hoping for something more reasonable” for the total school budget amount.

“We would like to get back to a level-services budget. The best situation would be if we could keep the sports, activities and academic programs” now on the chopping block, she said.

Beeley anticipates continuing to lobby the Town Council for additional funding, but said she would wait until after Wednesday’s meeting to decide whether she will urge voters to support the school budget on Aug. 4.

Beeley said her goal would be “to see a compromise and a more collaborative approach” to budgeting.

On the other side, tax activist Steve Hanly, who is also a columnist for the Current, is continuing his opposition to the school budget, calling the school board’s request to restore funding an unnecessary “cushion.”

In his latest blog, Hanly said school supporters are “poised to insist that the Town Council … and the voters … restore to the budget $320,000 of funds that school officials admitted would not harm academic programs if eliminated.”

He also called the request to restore funding “fluff” and urged his followers to “get an update on the council’s action before deciding how to vote on Aug. 4.”

In what he called an attempt at transparency during deliberations on the new fiscal year budget this spring, Councilor Shawn Babine, chairman of the town’s Finance Committee, said he made a concerted effort to meet several times with school officials to better understand the school budget.

In addition, he also held a budget forum where residents were encouraged to ask questions about how the combined municipal and school budgets were created and what was included in terms of any new programs or staff.

Even so, Hall said this week town and school leaders would need to do “serious thinking” about how to better approach the budgeting process going forward, particularly in the face of two failed school budget votes.


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