Scarborough High School Kelley Bouchard/Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH—Scarborough High School teachers will avoid layoffs and sports programs for the 2020-21 school year will not be cut after all, after the Town Council voted Wednesday to approve the $70 million combined school and town budget for 2021.

The effort hasn’t been without sacrifice. School officials eliminated most of the capital improvement budget, and some staffing reductions are likely at the administration level. On the municipal side, cost of living increases were removed and municipal employees, while not laid off, will have to go on partial unemployment.

If the public approves the school budget at the July 14 referendum, the combined impact to the tax rate will be a 1.24% increase. That adds up to an increase of 18 cents, or $45 for the owner of a $250,000 home.

Councilor John Cloutier, the lone dissenter, said that given uncertainties caused in part by the coronavirus, the budget does not go far enough to address potential needs for 2021.

“It manages the numbers to a level that we’re comfortable with, (but) in the extreme effort that it took to do that I feel like we’ve unfortunately neglected the other side of the equation, which is: How do we ensure that our residents are able to survive next year and get the services that they deserve and expect, maybe in a different way, and then how do we pay for them?” he said.

Residents weighed in during the public comment period, some, like Stacey Neumann, asking the council not to approve a budget that she felt didn’t provide enough money for possible pandemic-related expenses in 2021.

“It is an abdication of your duty to underfund this budget,” Neumann said.

Krystal Ash-Cuthbert, president of the Scarborough Education Association, addressed the council on behalf of the teachers union, asking for no more cuts to the school budget.

“In a time of crisis, the school department is going to need more, not less,” Ash-Cuthbert said.

However, Susan Hamill, now retired, said she put four kids through the school system, and asked the council to consider the needs of those on fixed incomes.

“We’re not all parents of school-aged kids, and we’re not all wealthy,” she said.

The Scarborough school budget has a history of not being approved on the first pass at the polls. Approval took two referendums in 2012, three votes in 2013 and two in 2014. The budget was rejected again in 2015, and again in 2017. In 2018, voters narrowly approved the budget by 98 votes. In 2019, voters passed the budget by a vote of 1,814 to 644, after officials approved a proposed $56 million school budget without major controversy for the first time in recent history. It remains to be seen if history will repeat itself this year, although there are no outward signs of widespread discontent, as in years past.

After the first reading of the budget on May 6, the school department said that to meet a target of a combined 1.6% increase to the tax rate would have required about $2 million in cuts to its budget. That would have included the loss of at least five “full time equivalent” teaching positions at the high school level, and  canceling high school and middle school sports and extracurricular activities.

Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall said additional reductions on the municipal side helped the school to avoid those cuts. He said about 77 municipal employees will be taking advantage of the Workshare program with the Maine Department of Labor that gives partial unemployment benefits to municipal staffers who work reduced hours. While it counts as drawing unemployment, Hall said it avoids lay offs.

“In the end, I’m confident my staff will remain financially whole,” he said.

School Board Vice Chairwoman April Sither said the school side reductions were also hard to take, but she was pleased to see it was not necessary to lay off teachers or cut school sports programs.

“We are proud of the fact that we were able to retain teachers and athletic and co-curricular programs,” she said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

Email: [email protected]

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