Lincoln County News: School and Municipal leaders to break law, deny voters a School Budget Validation vote

Lincoln County News: School and Municipal leaders to break law, deny voters a School Budget Validation vote

February 7, 2008 Posted by Steve Bowen - 1 Comment

While the legislature has been struggling to rework the school district reorganization law, towns and cities across Maine have been watching carefully to see if any changes will be made to the new school budget approval procedure the law contains. Known as the “budget validation process,” it requires that school budgets be presented at a public meeting, and, if approved there, then go on to a referendum vote within 10 days. If the voters turn down the budget at the referendum, the process repeats itself.
This procedure has generated opposition from some of the cities, who say they face great costs to do a referendum vote. Many small towns, who already use a town meeting to pass the school budget and consider that to be democracy enough, have voiced frustration as well.
An example of the latter is Southport, which, according to published reports, has decided to disregard the law and pass the school budget using the town meeting process they’ve used for generations:
While many Lincoln County towns wince at the idea of an up or down vote on the total school budget figure this year, Southport will go with its past history of voting as it always has since 1842 – at March town meeting.
In so doing, it will essentially defy a new statute termed “budget validation” the Maine Legislature passed recently requiring towns to vote on their school budgets at a separate referendum.
The law also requires a public hearing on all the cost centers and to come up with a total figure, but Southport officials are hoping the bill to repeal it will go through in this session of Legislature.
“We have never had a public hearing (on the school budget) nor do we intend to,” said School Union 49 chair and local school board member Bruce White. “We’ve always done it in our town meeting& the town meeting being the purest form of democracy.”

It will be interesting to see the state’s response to this act of civil disobedience. The law makes very clear that “school administrative district budgets developed after January 1, 2008 must conform to the format and referendum procedures” laid out in the law. Is the school budget legally valid if the validation process is not used? Can a town government simply vote to take away a right accorded its citizens under the law?
Stay tuned…