Next vote, no recount

The next Lewiston school budget vote may be June 14, which is a statewide election day on which Lewiston voters will decide whether to approve a new elementary school.

Superintendent Bill Webster said Wednesday he would recommend to the School Committee that the next budget vote be held June 14. It’s an election day, so there would be no additional expense to the city, he said.

City Clerk Kathy Montejo said a recount had not been scheduled and wouldn’t be unless there’s a request. The budget failed passage Tuesday, 367-373. 

LEWISTON — Many city residents were saying should’ve, could’ve, would’ve Wednesday, the day after the $69 million school budget was defeated by 6 votes.

Would-be voters said they didn’t know there was an election, or forgot Tuesday was the day. It would help, several said, if the school budget vote were held on a normal election day in November or during the June primary.

But that can’t happen unless the city charter is amended. Lewiston’s city charter says the school budget vote is to be held before the end of May.

Eating lunch at Simones’ Hot Dog Stand on Wednesday, Sadie Landry said that when she read in the Sun Journal that the school budget had failed, “I said, ‘Aughhh!’ It was on my radar. I had every intention of voting. It’s not a normal voting occurrence.”

She knew about Tuesday’s vote, read about it in the newspaper and on the “Lewiston Rocks” Facebook page. But she was busy and forgot.

“I’m disappointed,” said Landry, who has two children who attend Montello Elementary School and one who attends Lewiston Middle School.

Two Bates College students at a nearby Simones’ table said they’re registered to vote in Lewiston and would have voted Tuesday but did not know about the referendum.

“Both of my parents are public school teachers,” said Nate Stephenson of Ellsworth. “I know how important the school budget is. I had no idea about the referendum. I wish I had been there.”

Mike Ouellette of Auburn owns property and pays taxes in Lewiston. He said he was disturbed to learn the turnout was only 2.8 percent: 740 of 25,000 registered voters.

Ouellette questioned the need for 64 new positions for an increase of 250 students. When he found out 45 of the new positions were proposed because of an increase in special education students who need one-on-one help, Ouellette said the state should step in to help and not let the burden fall on local taxpayers.

Abdikadir Negeye of the Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services called Tuesday’s voter turnout “shameful” and “a big disappointment.” The small turnout is why the budget was rejected, Negeye said.

Rilwan Osman, also of the Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services, said he was surprised the budget failed, that on Wednesday he was hearing people say they did not know the referendum was Tuesday.

The School Department took steps to get the word out, said Superintendent Bill Webster. Every household was mailed a two-page flier with information on the May 10 budget vote and the upcoming new school vote June 14.

“We had a publicized budget information meeting that nine people showed up for,” Webster said, “(and) almost an average of two budget meetings a week that were open to the public.”

Budget stories ran in the newspaper and on social media, Webster said.

“It’s an example that today people are busy,” he said. “It’s difficult for things to register unless you’re hit in the face for certain things.”

Like many towns and cities, turnout for school budget referendums has been very low in Lewiston since 2008 when the state law was implemented mandating school budgets be approved by local voters.

The highest voter turnout was Tuesday’s 740 voters; the lowest was 349 voters in 2012.

The school budget referendums should stop, Landry said. “Elected officials should make those decisions,” she said, adding that they’re involved and should be left to do what they think is best. Residents who don’t have children in schools would have different opinions than parents of schoolchildren, she said.

Negeye and Ouellette said the validation votes should continue and provide voter oversight.

Before the next vote on June 14, Negeye and Osman said, they will be doing more outreach to encourage more voter participation in their community.

“As community and parents, we need to wake up and vote what is best for our children,” Negeye said.

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