Thursday, January 24, 2002

Cape schools begin budget process

Published in the Current

At a workshop meeting Jan. 22, the Cape Elizabeth School Board kicked off its budget process with a discussion of new staffing needs, building plans and possible student activity fees. The board remained conscious of budget constraints and prepared itself to answer the concerns of the Town Council, which must approve the school budget.

Three new staff positions were put on hold due to budget constraints, and all of the new programs originally planned for this year’s budget also were taken off the table by Superintendent Tom Forcella.

Remaining were additional staff positions required to handle increased enrollment and higher special education needs, small increases in high school and middle school athletics positions, and an 8-hour, weekly position to help support the state’s Laptop Initiative.

Enrollment changes mean a second grade teaching position will be added, while a middle school teaching position will be eliminated, and three teaching spots will be added at the high school.

Special education staff will be reshuffled through the district, as four educational technicians will move from the middle school to the high school along with the students they assist. Several kindergartners also will require additional help as they move from a half-day kindergarten to a full school day in first grade.

Despite those increases – nearly four full-time positions – special education director Claire LaBrie said the price was a bargain. “We are educating students in our school system that 20 years ago we would not have been educating,” she said. Instead, the school district would be paying for expensive day programs.

Occupational therapy and speech and language staff also will be increased slightly, in response to recently identified needs.

The high school will see an increase of about 50 students, half in the ninth grade and half in 12th grade, said High School Principal Jeff Shedd. That will require an additional three teachers there.

Board chair George Entwistle questioned whether that should mean three teaching positions should be eliminated at the middle school.

Middle School Principal Nancy Hutton, along with Shedd and Forcella, explained that there are more requirements on high school students, and more options open to them, meaning more teachers are frequently required to meet the needs of high school students than of a similar number of middle school students.

High school students are required to take a certain number of “elective” classes, for example, and that means teachers must branch out beyond the traditional curriculum.

Shedd pointed out the teaching staff increase “assumes no significant increase in class size.”

The board also discussed the plans for renovating the high school and adding to Pond Cove Elementary School. Building Committee chair Marie Prager presented several options to the board, including projected timelines and the costs for portable classrooms to be used temporarily until the building projects are complete.

The building itself is expected to cost between $5 million and $6 million. An exact figure should be available at the end of the school year, Prager said, when the architect completes a review of the precise work required.

The board wants to move forward as quickly as possible with the project, which should mean work on both buildings would begin in the summer of 2004, continue through the school year with some projects, and be completed in time for the beginning of the 2005-2006 school year.

The options Prager presented would cost between $90,000 and $165,000 for portable classrooms in the interim, beginning next school year. The variation comes from the number of portables, the number of years they are used, and whether or not kindergartners use them. Kindergarten classrooms are required to have running water and toilet facilities.

In other business, the board:
-Discussed school activity “user fees,” and decided to delegate a committee to come up with recommendations based on a study conducted by board member Jim Rowe in 2001. Possible options are a flat per-student fee, separate fees for sports and non-sports activities, and a smaller per-activity fee. In each case, there would be a fee cap of $100 per student and $150 per family.

-Entered executive session to discuss contract negotiations with custodians and bus drivers.

The next school board meeting will be Feb. 12, at 7:30 p.m., in the Council Chambers. The budget will be presented to the board Feb. 26, at 7 p.m., in the high school library.