Despite tough talk about school budgets in the weeks preceding the election, voters approved the final versions at the polls Tuesday – even Scarborough, which has a history of rejecting the school budget on the first vote.

But some hard feelings linger, and officials in at least two towns sent out letters saying they plan to work on avoiding divisive debate next year.

“The entire discourse during this process has been very un-Cumberland like,” read a letter sent to Cumberland residents last weekend by the town council’s chairman and vice chairman, pledging to meet with school officials over the “fractured relationship.”

“Healing will not begin until new relationships can be built and all voices can be heard,” wrote Chairman Mike Edes and Vice Chairman Ron Copp Jr.

STATE AIDS CUTS LED TO CONFLICT

Some of the closely watched school budget votes were in Scarborough, where the budget squeaked by with 98 votes, Gorham, Saco, Cumberland and Portland.

Part of the problem in many towns was that school officials expected an increase in state aid for the upcoming school year. But in a last-minute budget deal, the Legislature killed a voter-approved tax surcharge for education and instead added $162 million in school funding to ease the sting. But other changes to the funding formula meant many schools got less than expected, shifting more education costs onto taxpayers and triggering tense budget showdowns with municipal officials.

On Election Day, however, the only close votes were in Scarborough and School Administrative District 51 in Cumberland and North Yarmouth.

The final Scarborough vote was 51 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed, or 2,966 to 2,868. On their Facebook page, the Concerned Taxpayers of Scarborough Maine were talking recount, but the town manager said the town had not received any formal request. In past years, Scarborough has taken several votes before budgets were approved.

In SAD 51, the overall vote was 52 percent in favor to 48 percent opposed – but in the town of North Yarmouth it was a 50-50 split, with 1,381 in favor to 1,355 opposed.

Most communities passed their budgets with 70-percent-plus of voters in favor. A handful of towns – Gorham, Cape Elizabeth and RSU 5 in Freeport and Pownal – had roughly 60-40 splits.

GETTING A HEAD START NEXT YEAR

After the votes were tallied in Portland, Superintendent Xavier Botana sent out a letter pledging to tackle budget issues earlier and in more comprehensive ways so the district doesn’t find itself in the same financial boat next spring – short on state subsidy, with increasing fixed costs and asking for a tax hike from an unwilling city council.

“(D)uring this budget process, the Portland Board of Public Education made a commitment to engage in an in-depth review of school numbers and boundaries prior to the fiscal year 2020 budget,” Botana wrote, referring to work needed to set the stage for possible closing of schools and redistricting. That’s because those ideas – redistricting and closing schools – come up regularly as a way to potentially save money, but by the time the budget is being debated, it is too late to seriously consider them for the following year. This year, officials spoke frequently about starting those conversations now, so it is a realistic option in future budget talks.

Community members who staked out positions on school budgets are also looking ahead.

A pro-school budget activist group in Portland sent a message Wednesday thanking residents for supporting the budget, even if the group had initially fought for a larger budget.

“It’s not the budget we wanted, in large part due to the city council cutting $1.2 million, but we avoided much deeper and more harmful cuts. And we fight on for our schools!,” read a social media post from Protect Our Neighborhood Schools.

Also Tuesday, several towns, including Biddeford and Sanford, approved measures to join regional school centers. The centers are part of a new state initiative that provides additional state education funds to districts that band together to create centers providing certain services to their member districts.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

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Twitter: noelinmaine