SACO — Residents of Saco will be asked on Tuesday whether to approve six charter amendments, including one that would have the mayor preside over the school board.

The city’s mayor is an elected position that presides over the City Council and serves as a non-voting, ex-officio member of the school board.

The school board is comprised of seven elected members, one from each ward. The board appoints a chairman and a vice-chairman from its members. The chairman presides over the board and is a voting member, and the vice-chairman presides over the board in the chairman’s absence.

Other municipalities, including Biddeford, are structured so that the mayor presides over the school board.

Saco’s mayor at one time presided over the school board, but the practice ended when Saco joined Regional School Unit 23 in 2009. The city left the school unit in 2014 and created its own, single municipality school department.

Mayor Marston Lovell said having the mayor preside over the school board worked well in the past.

“I don’t think it’s illogical that we would revert back to that. I certainly wouldn’t be the first mayor who presided over the school board,” said Lovell.

Lovell said the City Council felt that having the mayor preside over the school board would create a more equal playing field among school board members, as a non-voting person presiding over the meeting would be more neutral than a voting school board member presiding over the board.

Lovell said should the measure pass, the school board would still elect a chairman to work with the superintendent on creating meeting agendas.

School board members Beth Johnston and Garrett Abrahamson weighed in on the issue at a candidate’s forum last week. Both said  they were in favor of having the mayor preside over the school board, but both thought it was important for the school board to continue to appoint a chairman and vice-chairman.

The measure would create better communication between the mayor and the school board, Johnston said. It would also allow all school board members to have equal representation on the board, Abrahmason said.

On Tuesday, residents will also be asked whether to amend the charter to require the school board and the city council to meet for regularly scheduled joint-meetings with time devoted to discussing the budget.

Abrahamson said the two boards have already begun meeting regularly and communication has improved, but he was in favor of changing the charter’s language to make this a requirement.

“It’s a good reminder that this needs to happen,” he said.

Lovell also said having a joint meeting requirement in the charter was a good idea.

“Formalizing it into the charter means it’s not going to slip through the cracks in the future,” he said.

Voters will also decide on Tuesday whether to change the term length and election cycle of the City Council and mayor. Currently, the mayor and seven city councilors serve two-year terms and are elected on odd-numbered years.

Residents on Tuesday will vote on a measure that would, after a transition period, result in the mayor and all city councilors serving three-year terms. Terms would be staggered in a three-year cycle, with wards 1, 3 and 5 up for election the first year, wards 4 and 5 up for re-election the second year and wards 2 and 7 and the mayor up for re-election on the third year.

Lovell said the proposed staggered term cycle would create stability on the council as it would assure that there would always be experienced members on the City Council. In the current system, with all seven members and the mayor up for election at the same time, the possibility remains that a whole new council could get voted in on an election year.

Another charter question, if approved, would amend section five of the City Charter to help keep record of departments beyond those represented in the charter. City officials say the proposed amendment is intended to allow for more strategic reorganization of municipal departments, in order to better reflect the evolving community needs and department responsibilities.

Saco residents will also be asked whether to approve a proposed referendum that would change language in the City Charter so that it is gender-neutral.

Residents will also vote on a charter amendment that would clarify when a public hearing should be held on the municipal budget. The proposed change would eliminate language that requires the city to publish a proposed budget summary in a newspaper within two weeks after the proposal is submitted to the City Council. It would keep language that  a proposed budget summary must be published 14 days prior to a budget public hearing.

 Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 780-9015 or [email protected]

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