2012-05-25 / Community

Voters approve school district budget

Low voter turnout marks RSU 21 referendum day
By Adam Chabot
Staff Writer


A lone voter selects “yes” or “no” on articles in the Reginal School Unit 21 school budget referendum vote May 15 at Kennebunk Town Hall auditorium. Town Clerk Joanna Moran said the lack of voters at this year’s vote was “sad to watch.” (Adam Chabot photo) A lone voter selects “yes” or “no” on articles in the Reginal School Unit 21 school budget referendum vote May 15 at Kennebunk Town Hall auditorium. Town Clerk Joanna Moran said the lack of voters at this year’s vote was “sad to watch.” (Adam Chabot photo) The fiscal year 2012-2013 Regional School Unit 21 budget was approved by a 663-302 vote May 15 – despite low voter turnout and lack of support by the town of Arundel.

The vote was broken down among the three towns in the district as follows: Kennebunk, 399-137; Kennebunkport, 182-35; and Arundel, 82-130, according to reports.

According to results released from Kennebunk Town Hall, a total of 965 people turned out to the polls between all three towns on May 15, with between 6 to 9 percent of residents from each town voting.

The $35.9 million budget features a slim increase of 0.69 percent, or $246,000, and also includes 12 staff cuts: a Kennebunk High School art teacher; an RSU 21 development officer; one part-time math-science teacher; one part-time Kennebunk High School counselor; three office positions; one bus driver and a custodian.

In building the budget, school board officials said they wanted to do everything they could to limit new spending. Directors held a meeting May 1 to vote on articles for the proposed budget (which passed with little or no public comment).

Arundel RSU 21 school board member Jack Reetz called the voters’ rejection of the budget “disappointing.”

Arundel is currently in the process of potentially withdrawing from the RSU. Currently, an Arundel withdrawal committee is meeting to construct a plan in the hopes of the town becoming fully responsible for its financial contribution to Arundel’s education.

Reetz did not offer public comment on whether possible withdrawal played a role in the vote, but in regards to low voter turnout, Reetz said the percentage of voters from all three towns wasn’t much different than other Maine communities.

“Several towns in Cumberland County apparently had even lower percentage turnouts,” Reetz said. “Democracy at work, or not.”

RSU 21 Superintendent Andrew Dolloff said it was hard to say whether potential withdrawal played a role in Arundel’s rejection of the budget, or if it played a role in the low voter turnout in that community.

“I don’t know why (potential withdrawal) would have an impact,” Dolloff said. “It’s hard to say.”

Dolloff also said he’s not entirely surprised by the lack of people running to the polls.

“There’s a larger turnout when there are more things in contention,” Dolloff said. “We were seeing a lot like what we were seeing in other communities.”

Many other southern Maine communities also dealt with low voter turnout, including Scarborough, where approximately 9 percent, or 1,200 voters, headed to the polls to decide their respective school budget, Dolloff said.

According to reports, the city of Portland had a record low number of voters turn out for its school referendum vote on May 15, and only 3.7 percent of eligible voters in South Portland voted May 15 on the school budget.

Kennebunk Town Clerk Joanna Moran, who was also a moderator for the budget referendum vote, called the low voter turnout in Kennebunk “heartbreaking.”

“If only 400 or 4,000 people come out to vote, the same amount of work happens,” Moran said. “Regular voters I’ve seen, they’re not here.”

A total of 536 voters from Kennebunk went to the polls. That’s approximately 7 percent of the voting population.

Moran said there were many possible reasons why the voter turnout was so low. She said little contention on the budget issues, an off-election year and disinterested voters without children in RSU 21 schools could be causes for the low numbers.

“That’s a sad feeling as a town clerk,” Moran said. “Sad to see. Sad to watch.”

The new school budget will take effect on July 1.

Staff Writer Adam Chabot can be reached at 282-4337 ext. 233

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