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Preston — Voters Tuesday soundly rejected the proposed $11.2 million school budget while overwhelmingly approving the $3.3 million town government budget and approving a plan to place $100,000 into a capital nonrecurring account.
Voters rejected the school budget 344 to 229 in the first budget referendum defeat in four years. The general government budget was approved 357 to 212, and the capital nonrecurring funding was approved 330 to 236. Turnout was 18 percent — higher than other recent budget referendums.
Discussion on the school budget centered on a plan to launch a universal preschool program for all 4-year-olds in town. That program was estimated to cost about $185,000, while the overall school budget would have increased by $569,854, or 5.4 percent.
“I’m extremely disappointed, but we live in a democracy,” Board of Finance Chairwoman Jan Clancy said.
Clancy said voters probably rejected the budget in opposition to the proposed preschool program. But she said voters and the Board of Finance cannot decide specific school programs, only bottom-line budgets.
Board of Finance Chairman Jerry Grabarek, who opposed the school budget increase, said he suspected the school budget would be defeated because of the relatively high turnout for the referendum. Throughout the budget process, Grabarek said school officials should have proposed a part-time new preschool program rather than starting with a full program.
The finance board next has the authority to adjust the school budget and send it to voters a second time. Grabarek said he plans to research whether state statutes dictate a specific time schedule for submitting new budget proposals.
The Board of Finance next meets at 7 p.m. Monday at Town Hall.
Superintendent John Welch said he, too, was disappointed with the referendum result and attributed it to the preschool controversy. But Welch said school officials cannot decide on specific changes to the budget until a revised budget is passed.
The Board of Finance doesn’t set the final tax rate until after budgets are approved by voters and final revenue figures are calculated. The budgets in Tuesday’s referendum would have carried a projected tax rate of 24.07 mills, up from this year’s 23.7 mills based on preliminary revenues.