AUBURN — For the second time, Auburn voters rejected the school budget Tuesday, this time by a 3-to-2 ratio.
Unofficial returns showed citizens voting 1,206 to 820 against the $37.67 million budget, Auburn City Clerk Susan Clements-Dallaire said. Voter turnout was about 13 percent.
On June 11, the budget was rejected by a vote of 1,625 to 1,036 vote; that budget was $38.37 million.
Superintendent Katy Grondin said she was disappointed.
"The gap is closing. That's a positive," Grondin said. "The difficulty is not knowing what the nos represent," Grondin said. "There's no clear-cut reasons for the nos."
She said she assumed the rejection means voters want a smaller budget, but some of the no votes could be from those who want more spending. "The challenge for us is there's very little public input at meetings. There's not a lot of communication to School Committee members."
The School Department has not sent voters the message that state law will require Auburn to spend more on education, Grondin said.
The School Committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss where to go from here and to map out the next referendum date, Grondin said.
Taxpayer advocate and former City Councilor Ron Potvin said he was "pleasantly surprised" by the vote.
"After two rejections, the School Committee and City Council have got to get serious," he said. "It's clear citizens are not interested in elaborate increases in spending. There has to be some reality check."
There's no need to increase spending to meet the state law this year, he said. Potvin and others planning to run for School Committee seats intend to push for a budget that has no higher than a 1.7 percent increase, Potvin said.
During the day Tuesday, voter turnout was higher than expected. Some voters interviewed Tuesday supported the budget, others said it was too high.
Retired teacher Timothy Priestly said he usually votes for school budgets, but he voted no on Tuesday.
“They've done a good job of cutting so far," he said. "I'd like to see more cuts, especially on the administrative side; leave the classroom teachers alone.”
Priestly retired from SAD 17 (Oxford Hills) after 31 years of teaching. “I've been hit with a freeze in my retirement. They've done away with the state rent and tax refund. Everything's frozen, but my costs are still going up.”
T.L. Mikesell said he voted no because the budget was too high. He said there are too many “upper-management people; they could have cut some of them. My little house, the taxes are so high already. There comes a point you've got to cut expenses.”
Ditto for Don St. Germain, who said that even though the budget was cut from the June 11 referendum, “they should still chop it some more. We're paying enough for taxes for what we're getting.”
Retiree Alfreda Fournier voted for the budget, showing up at the polls in a black and orange Harley-Davidson motorcycle suit. Just back from Pennsylvania, she cut her vacation short to vote.
“We need quality education. They've worked on it long enough,” Fournier said. “If the City Council is OK with it, I should be OK with it, too.”
Susan Robinson voted yes for the second time. “We need to support the schools. They have to get how much they spend per pupil up with other districts.”