Thursday, April 25, 2002

Cape prepares budget presentation

Published in the Current

A bit of last-minute budget relief may have arrived for the Cape Elizabeth School Board, though not from the source, or of the magnitude, that a state education funding increase could have provided.

The district last week locked in the price of heating oil at 80 cents per gallon, according to district Business Manager Pauline Aportria.

When approved, the budget included projected costs of $1 per gallon. The reduced cost will provide a savings of $27,000.

The School Board did not decide what to do with the money, which could be rolled over into the budget for the 2003-2004 school year or used to reduce the amount of the tax increase.

If applied to tax reduction, it would lower the projected tax increase by four cents, to 94 cents per thousand, or an increase of $188 for a home valued at
$200,000. That is just for the school portion of the budget.

The board will make a formal presentation of the budget to the council and the public Monday evening, at 7:30 p.m., in the Town Council Chambers.

At the School Board’s monthly workshop April 23, board member and Finance Committee Chairman Kevin Sweeney outlined his plans for the meeting. He said he will make two major points: the board trusts the administration and “it’s the kids,” Sweeney said.

A further major point, he said, is that it is wrong to think there were no cuts in this budget. “We have, in fact, reduced the budget—the operating budget—by $162,000,” Sweeney said.

The budget presentation summarizes the issues facing the district: contractually obligated pay and benefits expenses, legally required special education costs, enrollment issues, and the already-delayed purchase of an additional bus.

It will end with a comparison of Cape Elizabeth’s spending increase this year, and its per-pupil operating costs, with those in nearby districts including Scarborough, South Portland and Gorham.

The per-pupil spending chart, said board member Marie Prager, “doesn’t show us at the top, and it doesn’t show us at the bottom.”

Sweeney said that in the area of expenditure, “the basic thrust that we’ve adopted is to be in the middle.”

Prager emphasized, “this is in terms of cost, not student achievement.”

Board chair George Entwistle said the numbers show “we have created a quality program and we have been able to do that more efficiently and cost-effectively than these other towns.”

Sweeney will lead the board’s presentation, and will point out items that never made the budget, as well as programs and services that were cut.

The board’s five-year plan is one of the casualties of state funding cuts, and Prager, who helped devise the plan, said it is “shot to hell.”

Enrollment issues and class size are expected to be subjects of discussion by the Town Council and the board. Enrollment is projected to decrease by five students across the district, but the number of second-graders and a 50-student rise at the high school will require additional staff.

Superintendent Tom Forcella has prepared a packet of information for the councilors, to help explain class size and teacher load issues in Cape and how they could affect educational quality.

Forcella noted that total teacher load, especially at the high school level, is the determining factor in educational quality, not class size.

“It’s how many papers you have to correct,” he said, adding that the research he has seen shows that about 80 students is a good load without a negative impact on students.

Some high school teachers next year will have student loads over 100, according to Principal Jeff Shedd.

Town Council Finance Committee Chair Jack Roberts said the council has been occupied with other aspects of the municipal budget, and he would not know much about the councilors’ opinions on the school budget until the
two boards had met.