Edgecomb voters rejected the 2020-2021 education budget in their annual town meeting by referendum Saturday, Aug. 29.
After the vote, AOS 98 Superintendent Keith Laser said the Edgecomb Board of Selectmen “misrepresented the truth” in public statements about the budget.
The overall budget of $3,312,286 failed 98-71 and the line item for regular instruction, at $1,810,437, failed 90-79.
Voters rejected three other school-related articles: one to raise $875,114 in additional local funds beyond the amount set by the state’s Essential Programs and Services Act and two to transfer funds from surplus into reserve accounts. These failed 101-67, 105-61, and 107-61, respectively.
The latter two articles would have moved $250,000 into a non-lapsing capital improvement reserve and $50,000 into a non-lapsing emergency reserve.
In an Aug. 20 letter to the editor, the selectmen recommended that voters reject those five articles. They cited an expected reduction in revenue over the next several years.
Edgecomb School Committee Chair Tom Abello, in an Aug. 27 letter to the editor, defended the budget as tax-neutral.
Laser believes the selectmen misinterpreted the meaning of “non-lapsing.”
The selectmen said “non-lapsing” meant the town would have to replenish the fund to its original level every year until voters decided otherwise.
Abello said the town would not have to replenish the funds each year, but that “non-lapsing” just means the balances of those reserve accounts would not lapse to the unassigned fund balance at the end of the fiscal year.
“The selectmen have their own purpose,” Laser said at a school committee meeting Monday, Aug. 31. “They have their own reasons for representing their towns. You, the school board, you represent the kids and the school. You shouldn’t cross into each other’s domains.”
Laser said the selectmen “misrepresented the truth.” He also said voters might have approved the budget in an open meeting, but a secret-ballot vote changes the dynamic.
“When you’re allowed to vote on a secret ballot instead of sitting there in front of your community members saying, ‘I’m not supporting kids,’ it’s a different vote,” Laser said.
Selectman Mike Smith spoke on behalf of the select board in a phone interview Tuesday, Sept. 1. He called Edgecomb Eddy “one of the best schools in the state” and said people should not read too much into the votes.
“It’s just a matter of making small tweaks,” Smith said. He said the selectmen are “a very pro-education board” and that they expect to come to an agreement with the school committee soon.
Smith also said he does not believe the selectmen misrepresented anything.
Edgecomb postponed its annual town meeting from May 16 due to COVID-19 and then chose to vote by referendum to avoid a large gathering.
The rest of the education articles, including those for administration, maintenance, special education, and transportation, passed.
Elsewhere on the ballot, an article to raise $2,000 for The Community Center, of Boothbay Harbor, failed 78-85 at the recommendation of the selectmen.
All other articles on the warrant passed, including the new Town of Edgecomb Fire and Rescue Cost Recovery Ordinance. The ordinance will allow the town to recover its costs for responding to certain emergencies and other events from insurance providers or a responsible party.
In uncontested elections, Selectman Jack Sarmanian and school committee member Heather Sinclair were reelected for three-year terms. Town Clerk and Treasurer Claudia Coffin was reelected for one-year terms at both positions. Scott Griffin was reelected for a one-year term as road commissioner. Jack French was reelected for a three-year term as a planning board alternate. Kim Bachelder, appointed interim tax collector by the selectmen in July, was elected as a write-in candidate for a one-year term as tax collector.