Welcome to a special, non-inflammatory, highly-respectful blog posting, designed to tamp down fiery rhetoric and elevate the level of civic discourse… all while providing the same facts, analysis and insights that you have come to expect. Non-inflammatory, yes… boring, never!!!
First, the news…
At the Town Council meeting on June 17, the Council set the date for the second school budget referendum for July 7. They decided – after significant public comment – that their first proposed date of June 30 would not allow time for sufficient public understanding of the revised budget. (Thank you, fellow members of the public, for speaking out to assure that we have at least a week to ponder the new budget.)
The Council also agreed – unanimously – to make a $500,000 reduction to the school budget that had been defeated at the June 9 referendum. The new budget amount still results in the total net education budget increasing from $36.2 million last year to $38.6 million this year, a $2.4 million increase. That’s still an increase of 6.8% from last year. (To verify these amounts, please download the document available on the Town website — click here and then open the download. The school budget component is page 3 of the worksheet.)
And speaking of the June 24 Town Council meeting… this is the meeting at which the new school budget amount will be finalized. Although the Council voted unanimously on the $500,000 reduction only a week before, they have the ability to change that amount on June 24. Stranger things have happened at Town Council meetings. Please pay close attention to the June 24 Council meeting.
So what does the newly proposed school budget boil down to?
It’s only 4 bucks a week…
Here’s the breakdown of the tax bill for that oft-cited $300,000 home for the current year and next year using the new school budget amount:
So your tax bill is “only” going to increase an additional 4 bucks a week. Of course that four bucks a week is on top of the $87 per week you’re already paying in property taxes on your $300,000 home. That brings the property tax tab to $91 per week — a significant sum if you’re living on a modest income.
We have been asked why we focus on the school line in the tax bill. There are two very important reasons for this: First, it is only the school budget that we’ll be voting on on July 7. The municipal and county components are done deals. Second, as you’ll see from the way your taxes get distributed in the above chart, 65.6% of your tax dollar will go to support the schools. So when the biggest share of your tax payment is increasing by an amount significantly greater than the overall inflation rate, we believe it deserves the most attention.
Speaking of inflation… the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just released its May report a few days ago. The bottom line of the report: Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) for the twelve months ended May 31, 2015 was “unchanged.” Yes, that means inflation was zero for the last 12 months. Some will maintain that the CPI may not be the best comparison for the increase in the school budget, and that may well be true. On the other hand, it certainly is one meaningful comparison to the 6.24% increase in the school portion of your tax bill.
In Their Own Words…
Donna Beeley on the defeated budget referendum:
The undeniable fact (if there is such a thing anymore) is that the taxpayer funding of the schools increased by 8.19% in the budget that was defeated. That is the statement that has been consistently made in this blog, and it is supported by the Town’s tax calculation worksheet (see two blog posts ago for the worksheet). The sole reason the total tax increase was only 5.78% was that the net municipal budget increased by 2.11%.
Ms. Beeley continued:
Of all the possible lessons that came to mind, Ms. Beeley’s take-home message wasn’t one of them. We were thinking a prime lesson might be along the lines of “Gee, this budget seems to be too high for most Scarborough folks.” Shows how much we know. In any event, Ms. Beeley has introduced a breathtaking new concept in political analysis with huge implications. — those who stay home and do not vote count as being in favor of the status quo.
We urge you to read the entire article in The Current about the School Board’s reaction to the defeat of the school budget — link here.
School Board Finance Chair Christopher Caiazzo on the school budget defeat:
This comment requires a couple of responses. First, our voter turnout of around 20% was head and shoulders above that of most of our neighbors. Turnout was about 3% in SoPo, less than 2% in Portland, and about 11% in Cape Elizabeth. With continued voter interest in the school budget, let’s hope we do even better on July 7.
Second, Mr. Caiazzo appears to be suggesting that parents of school children were a significant factor in the referendum’s defeat. That’s probably true, but not in the way he assumes. The assumption of the School Board and administration seems to be that parents with kids in the schools are a unified voting bloc that will be a yes vote for any school budget that comes up. We believe that is a bad assumption.
Parents are taxpayers as well as consumers, via their kids, of the schools’ services. They are subject to the same ongoing financial pressures as many Scarborough residents. They, too, need to balance the schools’ financial needs with their own ability to afford the steadily increasing tax demands. When they pull that curtain behind them in the voting booth, they are free to vote in a way that best balances those needs for them.
Early Summer Destinations
Yes, we know, with summer finally here after a seemingly endless wait, it’s hard to worry about voting on another school budget referendum. But worry we must. With the Fourth of July coming up, it will be very easy to skip the vote on July 7. So please take a minute right now to review the referendum calendar below and decide when you’re going to vote. Mark it on your calendar now so you’ll be sure your voice is heard in this important vote.
“Easy voting” is just that. Show up at the Town Clerk’s office (first door on the left) at Town Hall and vote on the spot. It is literally a two-minute process.
“Special circs voting” means you need to have a “special circumstance” to be able to cast an absentee vote that day.
For complete voting details, click here for a link to the Town Clerk’s page. For voting questions, call the Town Clerk’s office at 730-4020.
We keep trying…
Despite our best efforts to clear up misunderstandings, certain very basic myths persist. Perhaps the most troubling is that Scarborough has a long history of cutting the funding of our schools. This one persists even among otherwise well-informed folks. But it just ain’t so! Here’s a very basic graph of how taxpayer funding of the schools has increased — steadily — for the past five years and the current budget. The FY 2016 budget amount has been updated to reflect the budget that will be voted on on July 7.
A Tip of our Mortarboard…
to the 239 seniors who received diplomas from Scarborough High School a couple weeks ago! The college plans of some of the graduates include a number of high-powered schools like BC, Bowdoin, Brandeis, Brown, BU, Colgate, GWU, Michigan, Penn, Smith, US Naval Academy, Wheaton, etc. Congratulations and best of luck to all 239 graduates!
- Is the “Level-Services Budget” on the level?
- Why does the myth of repeated school budget cuts persist?
- A short history of State aid funding (“GPA”).
- Surprises lurking in the FY 2016-17 budget.
- School budgets our neighbors have approved.